Numerous mayors from the state of California gathered on March 20, 2019 at Governor Gavin Newsom’s office to discuss the implications, and the growing problem, of homelessness. Most large urban areas including Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, and Oakland were represented. Prior to the meeting, the state legislature had allocated $500 million to create expanded programs and shelters for the homeless in California. Governor Newsom later announced to the press that as a result of the meeting he plans to set aside additional funding for homeless support, although an exact amount has not yet been determined.
Homelessness in the Bay Area has not gone unnoticed by outside communities. In fall 2018 a report by the United Nations singled out San Francisco and Oakland for the large homeless encampments in both cities, calling them “cruel and inhumane.” Currently Oakland has between 1,900 and 3,000 homeless people that live in a city that has a total population of 425,000. In San Francisco there are at least 7,500 homeless, in a city of roughly one million.
In response to this crisis, Oakland created new housing for its homeless population in the fall of 2018. One of these communities is the Lake Merritt Cabin Community, which provides housing for up to 40 homeless individuals. The houses are converted “tuft sheds,” which are insulated, although they lack running water. While Oakland officials recognize that these housing units cannot provide a permanent solution to the homelessness problem, they hope the sheds constitute an initial step in the right direction. They provide at least temporary housing for some of the homeless and thereby have helped to reduce tensions among all citizens who like to spend time around Lake Merritt.
The city of Oakland is currently using state funds for its housing and hopes to expand the number of homeless served by these temporary homes to 600 in the coming months.
Many Bay Area citizens, including Berkeley High School (BHS) students, are also advocating to create solutions to this complex problem. BHS sophomore Zoe Creane believes that the high costs of living and social stigma about homelessness are contributing to the expansion of the crisis. “Many people with a steady income struggle to find a place to live and food to eat, and for homeless people, it’s very difficult to break the cycle and find financial security,” said Creane. Creane also believes the city of Berkeley should improve the way in which it implements programs for the homeless. She thinks the city is creating policies that are not sufficiently focused on the actual needs of the homeless. “If they want to be more effective in the help they offer, they have to begin working with those in need to create a system that people will want to use — it has to be designed by the users, because it will be an ineffective resource if it’s not,” Creane said.
This sentiment was echoed by Tim McCarthy, a homeless man who lives in People’s Park and who feels city policies do not take into account his needs. “I’m not homeless, I just don’t have a regular home,” he said. “When will people understand that?”
Creane believes that in order to be effective, lawmakers must consider the needs of the homelesss. “I’ve heard a lot of organizations say that the first step towards a healthy life is humanization, and that can start with all of us,” she said.