Homelessness & Affordable Housing

In the immediate short term:

If you see anyone in distress,  I encourage contacting the city’s Specialized Care Unit: (510) 948-0075. The SCU is available 7 days a week from 6am to 4pm, and you can also leave a voicemail. To assist someone experiencing homelessness, please contact Homeless Services at 211.  

For non-emergency service needs, please call the city’s customer service line at 311 or request service online here. If you do not receive a response within one week, please provide my office with your ticket number and I will be happy to follow up.

Art by Alfred Twu (2023)

In the long term:

While overall homelessness declined in Berkeley by 5% from 2019 to 2022, unsheltered homelessness stayed roughly the same during this period, declining only 1%. In the Alameda County Homelessness Point-in-Time counts between 2019 and 2022, there was 15% increase in RV homelessness, but Berkeley saw a 57% decrease over that same time, down from 161 RVs to only 69. The SPARK program at 742 Grayson and State of California’s Project Homekey program were essential for this progress.

Alameda County Point-in-Time Count, 2022

Unfortunately, we have to confront the uncomfortable truth that this situation will not be solved in the long term until significantly more housing is built throughout our entire region. As Berkeley and Oakland have experienced, homeless residents particularly in RVs are unlikely to relocate voluntarily to anything other than permanent housing, but the shortage of housing available for all income levels makes this exceedingly difficult.

This issue requires state and regional collaboration, as the needs of the population outpace our capacity as a city to act on it alone. Because federal funding for homeless services is allocated at the county level, we are in regular contact with Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson’s office.

In 2019, there were roughly 15,000 people experiencing homelessness over the course of a year in Alameda County but we had  just over 3,200 permanent supportive housing vouchers at our disposal. During the pandemic, the state and county governments have been working to provide more permanent supportive housing by acquiring and converting hotels through Project Homekey. The City will also be providing another 43 units through the Golden Bear and 39 units through 1367 University Ave. Using Measure P funds, the City of Berkeley has rehoused 16 individuals with permanent housing subsidies, operates multiple shelter programs, and staffs our Homeless Outreach Team. The City is funding nine affordable housing projects with $111,379,307 in Measure O funds, and plans to fund additional projects by issuing a third round of Measure O bonds, up to $17 million.

Nevertheless, the ongoing shortage is still felt acutely across the income spectrum. While the City of Berkeley’s population grew by roughly 10,000 since 1970 (about 10%), the San Francisco Bay Area region grew by over 3 million people, or 65%. Since 1980, Berkeley has built just 1-3 new homes per year on average for every 1,000 residents. In early 2016, then-Mayor Tom Bates wrote: “Under federal guidelines allocating 30% of household income to housing costs, a renter household would need to earn an annual income of $143,360 to afford a median-rent unit.” This is still true today, but the median sales price of a new home in Berkeley has nearly doubled from $900k to $1.7M over the past six years.

Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)

The city council has budgeted for more permanent supportive housing which will need to be built. You can read more about the new permanent supportive opening at Step Up Housing opening soon here.  You can find more information about allocations for homeless services funded by the Measure P transfer tax here, and all expenditures on homeless services in the Adopted FY 2023 and FY 2024 Biennial Budget. As far as long-term solutions, you may find more detailed information in this City Manager memo on Berkeley’s 1000 Person Plan to Address Homelessness. The recommendations in this plan are central to our work in addressing the root causes of homelessness. 

Alfred Twu (2023); see also: Homelessness Is a Housing Problem (2022)

Please keep in mind that there is no law on the books that makes it illegal to shelter in one’s vehicle. Likewise, there is judicial precedent under the Martin v. Boise decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which the US Supreme Court declined to review, that effectively prohibits the western states under the court’s jurisdiction from removing homeless individuals who are sleeping on public property if no alternative shelter can be provided. Unfortunately, that does describe Berkeley’s insufficient shelter capacity without the Horizon Transitional Village and its SPARK program. City ordinances regulating encampments and RVs are unenforceable in the absence of shelter options, and continued enforcement will be contingent on further expanding our shelter capacity.

Alfred Twu (2023)

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