As of February 1, 2019, the City of Berkeley’s Homeless Fund has received over $230,000 in donations. The Fund was created in 2017 in response to Berkeley’s large and steadily growing homeless population. Due to gentrification, low wages, domestic abuse, unemployment and Berkeley’s exorbitant cost of living, there are hundreds of homeless members of the Berkeley community. Not just seen on the sidewalks of Berkeley streets like Shattuck or Telegraph, these people teem in group encampments located in parks and highway underpasses, as well as reside in cars and vans. This growing issue is not going unnoticed. The city of Berkeley is aware of the deteriorating situation, and along with the fund, Berkeley is addressing the issue and attempting to house the homeless population.
According to Berkeley’s Mayor, Jesse Arreguín, “[The fund] was created in October 2017 as a way to accept private donations for major homeless initiatives.” Run entirely by donations, the Fund has helped pay for several, groundbreaking projects. “Donations are received by writing a check to the Berkeley Homeless Fund and sending it to the Mayor’s Office,” Arreguín said. “Donations come from a variety of sources, including private individuals and companies,” he continued. The most notable project created from these donations is the establishment of the STAIR center. The STAIR center in Berkeley was established last June. Its purpose is to offer shelter, food, and resources to Berkeley’s homeless people, as well as provide services for these people in finding permanent housing. Located in West Berkeley, it can house up to 45 people, and its establishment was funded by the donations collected for Berkeley’s Homeless Fund. It has already proven to be successful, “The STAIR Center is different from other shelters in that it provides 24/7 service … since its opening seven months ago, 53 people have found stable housing,” Arreguín said.
Berkeley High School (BHS) has established its own efforts to tend to the growing issue of homelessness in Berkeley. Sophomore Zoe Creane is a member of BHS’s Homeless Support Club. She explained how the club has been fundraising to support the community. Creane thinks that it’s unfortunate how not everyone is as eager to help as her club is. “Homeless in Berkeley is an undeniable issue, but many people are reluctant to help because of stereotypes about people living on the streets,” Creane said. “The recent growth of Berkeley’s homeless population has caused people to harbor more fear, anger, and spite.”
Creane believes that the closed-mindedness and fear of homeless people is due to certain stereotypes and stories. “I find that Berkeley residents can be selective in the stories they hear, and choose to project one person’s truths onto everyone else, such as ‘choosing to be homeless’, or ‘wasting privilege,’” Creane said.
Despite the Homeless Fund’s generous sponsors and donations, as well as student efforts like BHS’s student-led Homeless Support Club, homelessness continues to be a problem in Berkeley. Another BHS student and homelessness awareness advocate, Leah Wildmann, believes that there has been progress regarding Berkeley’s homelessness situation, but much more needs to be done. “I think that Berkeley as a whole needs to do more for homelessness,” she said. She believes that the lack of clear progress is due to not enough awareness. “Most people don’t know the extent of the problem,” Wildmann said. Creane concurs with Wildmann, believing that the obvious lack of progress that has been made is due to common ignorance about the issue. “I think the city has one massive oversight in their tactics, they are trying to solve the ‘problem’ without understanding it,” Creane said. The solution, she believes, involves giving the homeless population a voice. “Listen to those who are going to need help, the city needs to collaborate with the homeless population … the system needs to be designed by and for its users,” she said.
Mayor Arreguín believes that “no city can solve the homeless crisis alone. We must continue to work with other cities, along with county, regional, and state leaders.” He also hopes the donations continue and the fund grows, “Those investments will make a real difference and will help us make progress towards our goal of having sheltered or housed 1000 people in the next 5 years.”