October 3, 2019

Dear Neighbor,

In this e-newsletter, I provide more detail on the topics covered in my presentation during that meeting. And fair warning, this e-mail is longer than usual as a result.
I hope you find it helpful to better understand the nature and scope of the homelessness crisis we face, what the city is doing to address the challenge, and future efforts. I’ll be back to updating you on all other major issues in my next e-newsletter. 

Finally, please SAVE THE DATE for my next Office Hours :
Sun., Oct. 6
4-6 p.m. at Cafe Leila (1724 San Pablo)
2019 Homelessness Point-in-Time Count
Every two years, communities nationwide conduct a comprehensive count of people experiencing homelessness, as required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Last month, we received detailed results of the 2019 homelessness point-in-time count that occurred on January 30 th in Alameda County. The Berkeley numbers showed a total of 1,108 people who are homeless—a 14% increase over the 2017 count. It’s important to keep in mind that this count is necessarily an underestimate of the number of people expected to experience homelessness in Berkeley in 2019— which is about 2,000—because it doesn’t capture people who exited homelessness prior to the count nor people who will become homeless after the count.  
The City of Berkeley Homeless Count & Survey Comprehensive Report was released last month.
The count was followed by a countywide survey that included 257 unsheltered and sheltered homeless individuals in Berkeley, providing a profile of the population. The full report contains a lot of detail, and I highlighted four key statistics about Berkeley’s homeless population at the Town Hall Meeting:

1.  Disproportionately African American. While only 9% of the city’s general population is African American, 57% of all homeless individuals are African American.

2.  Vast Majority Are Unsheltered. Of the 1,108 homeless individuals counted, 73% (or, 813 people) are unsheltered; sheltering in an RV, car, or van is considered unsheltered, and those numbers are on the rise when compared to the 2017 count:
  • 251 in tents
  • 231 on street/outdoors
  • 161 in RVs
  • 157 in cars/vans
  • 13 in abandoned buildings

3.  Vast Majority from Alameda County. While the survey does not ask respondents if they’re from a particular city, the vast majority (73% of Berkeley survey respondents) reported being from Alameda County:
  • 48% reported living in Alameda Co. for +10 years
  • 16% reported living in Alameda Co. for 5-9 years
  • 18% reported living in Alameda Co. for 1-4 years
  • 14% reported living in Alameda Co. for less than 1 year
  • 3% refused to answer

4.  Highest Concentration in West Berkeley. The highest concentration of people who are unsheltered is located in West Berkeley.
Homelessness Spending
Berkeley has budgeted a total of $24 million for direct homeless services in FY19-20 from a combination of local, state, federal, and other sources.
FY19-20 Homelessness Budget by Fund Source
(Dollars in Millions)
A total of about $10.6 million is from local funds both General Fund and the voter-approved Measure P, an increase of the transfer tax for the top third of real estate transactions. 
FY19-20 Homelessness Budget by Service
(Dollars in Millions)
The largest share of dollars funds permanent supportive housing. The pie chart below excludes services funded by Measure P, as the final allocations will be approved in November.
Detailed Homelessness Budget for FY19-20
(Dollars in Millions)
The table below displays the FY19-20 homelessness budget by service and by fund source.
  • Notably, the City spends a total of $1.3 million to fund 244 shelter beds, with an additional 45 beds funded through Pathways Navigation Center, for a total of 289 shelter beds.
  • The 45 shelter beds at Pathways are significantly more expensive (a total of $2.4 million) than the 244 traditional emergency shelter beds because Pathways is doing far more than simply providing respite from the outdoors; staff work to place people into permanent housing and rapid rehousing subsidies are sometimes provided to support clients as they transition. The total $2.4 million reflects these higher costs.
  • Here again, services to be funded by Measure P have been excluded, as final allocations will be approved in November. One possible use of funds is to transform traditional shelters into navigation centers so more people can successfully transition to permanent housing.
Encampment Outreach in a Landscape of Insufficient Federal Resources
Berkeley’s policy for addressing encampments is governed by a federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision known as Martin v. Boise.

The case was brought by homeless individuals in Boise, Idaho, who challenged the city’s ordinance banning camping in public spaces.
The Pathways Navigation Center is located on Second St. in West Berkeley.
The Court decision essentially states that if a city doesn’t have enough shelter beds available, enforcing a camping ban like Boise’s violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment

“…as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

However, the decision specifies exceptions to this standard:
  • “Nor do we suggest that a jurisdiction with insufficient shelter can never criminalize the act of sleeping outside. Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible [emphasis added].”
  • “So, too, might an ordinance barring the obstruction of public rights of way or the erection of certain structures.”

Berkeley does have a sidewalk policy that requires individuals to consolidate their belongings into a nine-square-foot space so that everyone has equal access to the sidewalk, particularly individuals using wheelchairs or other mobility aids.

As noted when discussing our homeless services budget, Berkeley currently has a total of 289 shelter beds. Meanwhile, the point-in-time count shows a total of 482 people in tents, on streets, or outdoors (and a total of 813 unsheltered individuals when counting people in cars, vans, RVs, and abandoned buildings—all considered unsheltered conditions). Because the City doesn’t have enough shelter beds to accommodate everyone who is unsheltered, City staff must prioritize encampment outreach based on the most serious health and safety concerns received from our 311 City service system. Using the Martin v. Boise standard, City staff may clear an encampment from a particular location due to health and safety concerns (such as fire risk, obstructed access, public health, etc.) and offer individuals shelter beds. We know that many homeless individuals refuse the City’s offer of shelter services, creating a situation in which encampment outreach often involves unsheltered individuals relocating from one place to another. This is not helpful for the person who relocates nor is it an efficient use of resources, but it is done to address an immediate health and safety concern at a particular location.

The results of the homeless count survey show the top five reasons Berkeley homeless respondents gave for refusing shelter services:
  • 31% said Bugs
  • 26% said Curfews
  • 22% said Lack of Privacy
  • 21% said Too Crowded
  • 19% said Nowhere to store my stuff   
(Note: Percentages do not add up to 100 because the question allowed multiple responses.)

In another question, homeless individuals were asked about the type of housing desired, with the following results:
  • 52% said Independent, Affordable Rental Housing
  • 19% said Housing with Support Services
  • 13% said Clean and Sober Housing
  • 3% said Assisted Living (24-Hour Care)
  • 4% said Other Housing
  • 2% said Not Interested in Housing Now
  • 6% Refused to Answer Question

The results of both of these survey questions underscore the difficulties we face as a mid-sized city addressing homelessness. In the absence of robust investment from the federal government in affordable housing, we lack the revenue needed to provide a substantial number of permanently affordable homes. To help put this into context, the Berkeley Way Project will cost a total of $110 million (roughly $26 million of which comes from local sources, such as the Measure O affordable housing bond proceeds) and the facility will provide 89 affordable homes to individuals earning between 50% to 60% of the Area Median Income. In addition, Berkeley Food and Housing Project will provide the following:
  • Temporary housing for 32 adult homeless men
  • 53 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless and disabled men and women
  • Transitional housing for 12 homeless male veterans (in partnership with the VA)
  • Offices for support staff and partner agencies such as LifeLong Medical and Berkeley Mental Health
  • A commercial kitchen and dining facility for meal services

When considering the cost and number of affordable units to be created at the Berkeley Way Project, it’s clear that our region—and others across the country—need massive federal investment to fully meet the needs of our homeless population. A recent Bay Area Council report on homelessness noted that it would cost $12.7 billion to fully house everyone who is homeless in the Bay Area . This doesn’t mean that we should give up on this long-term vision, but we need to recognize what it requires. One promising option at the state level is Assembly Bill 1487 (awaiting the Governor's signature) , which would create a Bay Area regional housing entity to fund affordable housing to meet a portion of the unmet need. Statewide Propositions 1 and 2 approved by voters last November will provide a total of $6 billion in new resources. Proposition 1 will authorize a total of $4 billion in bonds to fund veterans and affordable housing, and Proposition 2 will fund up to $2 billion in bonds for housing for those with mental illness who are homeless. At the federal level, Congresswoman Maxine Waters has introduced HR 1856 the End Homelessness Act to provide $13.3 billion in new funding over five years. 
Periodic Update on Managing RV Parking
West Berkeley, particularly the Gilman District from about Tenth to Sixth Streets, is facing a high concentration of RVs on public streets. As I have noted in previous newsletters ( HERE and HERE ), the City has received numerous health and safety complaints, ranging from human waste on streets and in storm drains to trespassing on private property for water and electricity.
An RV in West Berkeley. Photo: Eric Panzer.
It is my strong belief that it is not healthy or safe for anyone to be living on the public right-of-way for extended periods of time without sewer, water, and electricity connections. However, we also know that homelessness is increasingly affecting individuals with higher incomes, and the point-in-time count shows greater numbers of individuals sheltering in RVs—some of whom have children in Berkeley schools, were previously permanently housed in Berkeley, or working in Berkeley.

Earlier this year, the City Council approved a compromise policy that balances concern for the health and safety of our whole community with the recognition that some of the individuals sheltering in RVs are vulnerable members of our community. In this way, the policy does two things:

1)       Overnight Parking Limits for RVs . The policy adds RVs to the list of oversized vehicles not allowed to park overnight on the public right-of-way (specifically from 2 to 5 a.m.). This action does not impact individuals sheltering in cars or vans and is a common parking regulation used by numerous cities to restrict oversized vehicles from parking overnight; Los Angeles, for instance, bans oversized vehicles from parking from 2 to 6 a.m. This parking regulation will be implemented upon the establishment of a safe parking site for a limited number of RVs (see #2 below). Enforcement of this overnight RV parking rule will begin with advance notification to RV households, an initial traffic enforcement effort and limited flexible funding to repair inoperable RVs, and—once there is a general understanding of the overnight parking rule for RVs—ongoing enforcement on a complaint-driven basis.
2)       Safe Parking Site for RVs Meeting “Priority Population” Criteria . The policy directs the City Manager to establish a temporary pilot safe parking site for a limited number of RV households meeting specified criteria as a “priority population” (such as being low-income, having children in Berkeley schools, previously being permanently housed in Berkeley, etc.). The safe parking site would give these households three to six months to identify a permanent off-street location to park their RV or to identify alternative housing. The site would include: security; sanitation facilities such as garbage receptacles, portable restrooms, and hand-washing stations; consideration of access to water and electricity; and possibly social services. During the Town Hall Meeting on Sept. 22, the City Manager committed to a goal of establishing the safe parking site(s) for a total of about 20 RVs in November, with community outreach to nearby businesses and residents to mitigate any concerns. I understand that a safe parking site for 20 RVs may not meet the full need and I am continuing to work on establishing a regional RV site that could accommodate more people from Northern Alameda County.   

I know there has been speculation that the proliferation of RVs is related to the recent discovery of elevated levels of fecal bacteria E. coli and intestinal bacteria enterococci in the lagoon at Aquatic Park . Further testing is being done by the City to better understand the cause of the high levels of bacteria. Regardless, the water quality at Aquatic Park is an important reminder that basic sanitation—something many of us take for granted—is a core component to ensuring a safe and healthy community for all.
Options for CalTrans Parcels & Illegal Dumping
It is not safe or healthy for people to be sheltering at our freeway on-ramps and off-ramps at University and Gilman. We need to partner with CalTrans to address the gateways to our city.  

Here are immediate, mid-range, and long-term initiatives for these areas that I presented during the Town Hall Meeting:
Property owned by CalTrans at our freeway on-ramps and off-ramps needs greater attention. Photo: Evelyn Larsen.
Immediate (1 Year)
  • Better coordination between City & CalTrans before CalTrans clean-ups; need for more frequent outreach to unsheltered individuals
  • Identify additional city resources to clean-up trash & debris
  • Council approved security cameras, signage & increased fines to reduce illegal dumping near CalTrans parcels (funding allocation needed in November)
  • CalTrans infrastructure upgrade on the east side of Eastshore Highway before Hearst to deter camping in unsafe corner

Mid-Term (3-5 Years)
  • Develop & execute plan for using Measure P resources to provide service options designed for high-needs populations, such as those at CalTrans parcels  
  • Design & construct Gilman Interchange project to deter camping in unsafe areas (construction scheduled for 2020-2023)

Long-Term (+10 Years)
  • Design & construct University overpass project to deter camping in unsafe areas
  • Build permanently affordable housing using Measure O affordable housing bond (Berkeley Way project)
  • Implementation of Assembly Bill 1487, creating a Bay Area regional housing entity to fund affordable housing (assuming Governor signs)
  • Work toward Alameda County leading coordination across cities so there is a regional approach to the provision of homeless services
  • Advocate for more federal resources for permanent supportive housing 
FAQs & Answers from Town Hall Meeting
There were many questions and comments that were raised at the West Berkeley Homelessness Town Hall Meeting. I want to take the time to provide answers to a number of key questions that were asked.

If you have a specific question, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me: [email protected] or 510-981-7110.
I held a Town Hall Meeting on Homelessness in West Berkeley on Sept. 22. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside .
Q: What are the results from Year 1 of the Pathways Navigation Center?

A: Our City staff have prepared an evaluation of the first year of the Pathways Navigation Center, which can be viewed HERE (scroll to Item #41). The report notes that 128 people exited Pathways during the first year. Here's how that breaks down:
  • 101 clients have exited to permanent housing, including 82 clients housed from Pathways and 19 clients housed directly from the streets via outreach (64% of all Pathways exits);
  • Of the 101 exiting to permanent housing, 15 clients exited to permanent supportive housing, 63 exited to rapid rehousing programs with an ongoing partial subsidy, 7 reunited with family or friends, 8 moved into a rental with another form of subsidy (i.e., a Section 8 voucher or equivalent), and 8 moved into housing units with no ongoing financial assistance;
  • 30 have exited back to homelessness (23%);
  • 13 clients exited to institutional or temporary settings, including other homeless programs, jail, or hospitals (10%);
  • 1 client passed away, and 2 exited to unknown destinations.

Q: What is the City doing to create affordable housing?

A: The City is fortunate that voters resoundingly approved the Measure O affordable housing bond last November, which will provide a total of $135 million to fund the development of below-market-rate homes. Every dollar of bond funds will yield about $4 of outside funding, quadrupling the impact of the bond. Measure O bond proceeds will be used to fund the Berkeley Way Project for formerly homeless individuals and a number of other affordable housing projects to be determined by the Measure O Bond Oversight Committee and the City Council.

Q: What mental health services does the City provide?

A: We know that a significant share of individuals who are homeless suffer from mental health and/or substance use disorders, and the ideal solution is permanent supportive housing. In the homeless count survey, 49% of unsheltered single adults 25 and older reported suffering from psychiatric or emotional conditions and 42% reported drug or alcohol abuse. Here are a few services that the City provides to support individuals facing mental health challenges:
  • Daytime Mental Health Crisis Line. This is a new service that offers support, consultation, and resources with a call to 510-981-5244, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The crisis line is a pilot program funded by the California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission.
  • Mobile Crisis Team. The Mobile Crisis Team provides crisis intervention services. The team is available everyday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. by calling the police non-emergency number at 510-981-5900 or by leaving a voicemail at 510-981-5254.
  • Berkeley Mental Health Clinic. The clinic located at 1521 University is open Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Q: What are we doing to address homelessness in a regional way?

A: We know that homelessness does not respect jurisdictional boundaries, and we need to have a coordinated regional response. Assembly Bill 1487 is a first step to raising funds as a region to develop more affordable housing. A recent Bay Area Council report on homelessness notes a number of other strategies to enhance regional collaboration, such as data-sharing across counties and the development of a regional homelessness management plan.

To view the presentation I delivered during the Town Hall Meeting, please click HERE (scroll to bottom). If you would like to request a neighborhood meeting so that I can review this material with you and your neighbors in greater detail and hear your specific concerns, please feel free to be in touch - [email protected] or 510-981-7110. 
"What Keeps You From Despair?"
In my visits to encampments in West Berkeley, I am humbled by the gravity of our challenges. Homelessness describes the common condition of people facing a wide array of challenges beyond the lack of permanent shelter. The disproportionately high number of homeless individuals who are African American is a reflection of our country’s legacy of racism in all walks of life, including housing, employment, and the criminal justice system. I think about one person, let’s call him Joe, who I recently met. Joe is African American and nearing the age of 50. Formerly incarcerated, Joe told me he now has trouble going into enclosed spaces like a shelter. Joe grew up in East Oakland and said he had been looking for honest work but doing what he had to do to survive when he was arrested. He sometimes goes back to East Oakland to visit family and to bathe.

I don’t know the full details of Joe’s life. I don’t know about the circumstances of his upbringing or the nature of his criminal offense. I can’t begin to know the demons with which he struggles today. I don't know whether his family in East Oakland has the means or desire to house him for a time. I wonder about these details, and I hope I might have an opportunity to learn more about Joe. None of the data and policy I’ve rattled off in this newsletter will ease the challenges that Joe faces anytime soon. In sharing Joe’s story here, my hope is to underscore how difficult the homelessness challenge can be.

Not too long ago, somebody asked what keeps me from despair on homelessness. To despair is to have no hope. But I always hold onto a stubborn belief in the idea that one person can change things—despite all evidence to the contrary. And all of us must try. To all of the people who attended my Town Hall Meeting on homelessness in West Berkeley, to all of the people who regularly send me messages about wanting to help, to all of the people who have been permanently housed or supported because of City services, you all give me hope. Thank you for being a part of this incredible community of people who care.  
Upcoming Events
The Harvest Fest will take place this Sat., Oct. 5 at Cedar Rose Park.

The Community Emergency Prep Fair will take place next Sat., Oct. 12 at James Kenney Park.

The League of Women Voters is hosting a talk with the new BUSD Superintendent Dr. Brent Stephens on Sun., Oct. 20 from 2-4 p.m. at the Central Library (2090 Kittredge).
My Website
For updates on community issues and links to City information resources, please visit my website: www.rashikesarwani.com.

This site is also where you can find an archive of all of my newsletters to date.

To sign up to receive future newsletters, please click  HERE.
Seeking Assistance from the City
Here are key City of Berkeley resources to keep handy:

For illegal dumping , potholes, missed garbage pickups, or graffiti...
Call 311 or (510) 981-2489

For a public works emergency , such as a sewer overflow, traffic signal outage, fallen tree, or toxic spill...
Call (510) 981-6620

For a homeless person who appears vulnerable and in need of services or is demonstrating concerning behavior...
Call the Homeless Outreach and Treatment Team (HOTT) (510) 981-5273

For non-urgent criminal activity with no suspect present...
Call the Berkeley Police Non-Emergency line (510) 981-5900

You can also download the SeeClickFix app to report an issue to the City.