Photograph by Calliope Arkilic
City staffers and police officers have cleared out the homeless encampment outside of Old City Hall. Officers arrived around 6 AM on Wednesday, September 5, to ask them to leave, following an order given by City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley. Although the encampment was in violation of the municipal code, no citations were issued.
Ten tents were set up on the lawn outside of Old City Hall over the weekend of September 1, and the encampment received support from First They Came for the Homeless, a homeless advocacy group. Five of the ten pitched tents were occupied. Services were offered to those occupying the tents on multiple days, said Berkeley Public Information Officer Matthai Chakko.
According to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s office, Old City Hall was not a suitable location for a homeless encampment. Vouchers guaranteeing a spot at the emergency shelter, located at the North Berkeley Senior Center, were passed out on two consecutive nights. The vouchers were not taken.
At the time the encampment came to Old City Hall, the homeless shelter at the North Berkeley Senior Center had space, said Chakko.
The set up of the encampment follows the recent closure of the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter, a temporary shelter that was at its maximum capacity. The shelter is temporarily located at the North Berkeley Senior Center and will move to the Frances Albrier Community Center in late September.
Regardless of where the shelter is located, the city will continue to offer the same number of beds and resources, said Berkeley councilwoman Lori Droste.
“We structure all of our homeless services around getting people into shelter,” said Chakko.
Services currently available include men’s and women’s shelters, emergency shelters, and daily food, laundry, and shower programs.
Providing mental health services to those in crisis living in the streets has also been a main focus of the city.
One new option for people experiencing homelessness is Pathways, a navigation center on Second Street, that opened in June of 2018. Sleeping spaces, laundry services, and meals are all available at Pathways. Additionally, the center works to connect the homeless with their families, and to find permanent housing.
“It’s overwhelming to our city, the need that is out there,” said Droste. “We want to help as many people into homes as possible, but we have finite resource… Berkeley has always been a compassionate city, in terms of offering shelter, food, and services. It makes a lot of sense to be wise in how we spend our money, for our residents to state their opinion on how much they think we should spend.”
Currently, Berkeley spends roughly twenty million dollars a year on homeless services, equating to roughly nine thousand dollars a person, the highest amount in all of Alameda County, said the mayor’s office.
In recent years, Berkeley has changed the way it delivers services to the homeless, with the creation of the “Hub”, which supports the homeless in finding services. People who have been homeless the longest and people who are suffering from disabilities are prioritize with the new system, explained Chakko.
Between 2015 and 2017, the homeless population in Berkeley increased 23 percent, with similar current trends, according to the mayor’s office.
The city has been working to address the homelessness crisis, providing both short term and long term solutions. The STAIR (stability, navigation and respite) Center opened in late June helps homeless people with case management, addiction treatment, and placing them into permanent housing. The center has helped 11 people find permanent housing so far.
The city’s main goal is to get people off the streets and into housing, said Chakko. The healthiest place for a person to be is indoors – that is a critical step towards creating stability in their lives, Chakko said.
Erick (no last name offered), a member of the People’s Park Committee, said he wants to see more services for homeless people in Berkeley and that Berkeley’s services couldn’t compare to San Francisco’s right now.