People’s Park focal point for countywide homeless count

People’s Park in Berkeley was one of 33 service sites across Alameda Country where volunteers interviewed homeless people on Wednesday Jan. 30 as part of a biennial homeless count. Photo: Tracey Taylor

On Wednesday this week, 233 volunteers fanned out across Alameda County and approached 2,000 people at soup kitchens and food pantries, on the street and in parks, with a view to securing 1,000 interviews with homeless people. The resulting data is used to compile a census of how many people are without homes in the county, and also what types of people they are — be it vets, singles, families or minors.

People’s Park in Berkeley was one of 33 service points at which interviews took place. The count is orchestrated every two years by EveryOneHome, a government agency that coordinates homelessness efforts countywide. At the last homeless count which extrapolated Berkeley data, in 2009 Berkeley’s total homeless population numbered 680. That compared to 2,091 for Oakland. The latest total for the county, in 2011, was 4,341. The 2011 count showed a 13.6% drop in the overall homeless population in Alameda County over 2007. (All the data for the counts, including breakdowns, trends and regional comparisons is available on the EveryOneHome website.)

Councilman Jesse Arreguín, who joined volunteers on Wednesday afternoon at People’s Park to conduct interviews, said he believes the current number is higher than 680, and that there is still a lot of work to be done to help people find shelter.

“The census doesn’t count everything,” he said. “Berkeley has an overall budget of $2.8 million for homeless people with $1 million going to direct services,” he said, “but talking to people today makes me realize the particular challenges we face.”

The results of the 2013 homeless count will be available this summer, but will not extrapolate Berkeley numbers. Elaine de Coligny, Executive Director of EveryOneHome, said the reason is cost. “It’s expensive to get the right sample size for a city as small as Berkeley,” she said. “It’s unfortunate we can’t capture [the regional breakdowns] every time.” Regional breakdowns are compiled every third count.

However, de Coligny said many of the changes in the numbers and profiles of homeless people countywide are reflective of changes at a regional level. There has been a significant drop in the number of vets without homes, for example, partly the result of vet-focused federal programs. (The veterans homeless agencies see are increasingly from Iraq rather than Vietnam, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan pointed out at a press conference held at People’s Park on the day of the count.)

Screen shot 2013-02-01 at 1.01.36 PM

Berkeley homeless numbers, compiled in the 2009 Homeless Count. For larger view, click here.

In addition, the Mental Health Services Act has helped reduce the number of mentally ill people who are homeless, de Coligny said.

Efforts by Berkeley to tackle the chronically homeless have paid off, de Coligny added. The 2003 census showed that category to be the highest in Berkeley compared to other local cities and the reduction since then has been “impressive,” she said.

Compared to other county cities, Berkeley has a low number of homeless families with children, too. In 2009, just 43 of the 680 total were households with minors.

Arreguín, who is leading a drive to implement what he sees as a more compassionate approach to dealing with the homeless in the wake of the failure of the commercial sidewalk sitting ban, Measure S, said he had been surprised at the diversity inherent in the homeless people he spoke with on Wednesday.

“There were long-term homeless people as well as those in transition, youth, vets, people who had been abused, different ages and backgrounds. Hearing their stories helps inform us about what we need to do.”

Berkeley Council moves towards consensus plan on homelessness [01.31.13]
Op-ed: After Measure S failure, it’s time to act on homelessness [01.24.13]
Measure S: will it help or hurt the homeless? [10.31.12]

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  • PragmaticProgressive

    Compared to other county cities, Berkeley has a low number of homeless families with children, too. In 2009, just 43 of the 680 total were households with minors.

    And yet Berkeley schools have over 800 enrolled students who are classified as homeless under the McKinney-Vento provisions.

  • Bill N

    I look forward to the seeing the data. It would be helpful to have some simple definitions for the “Hearth Addition” and if there are time frames for how long homeless and for ages for the various categories.

  • 4Eenie

    18.6 minor children per homeless household… yeah, that explans BUSD’s bloated number! (not)

  • PragmaticProgressive

    “Berkeley has an overall budget of $2.8 million for homeless people with $1 million going to direct services”

    Where does the other $1.8 million go? City bureaucracy? Activists?

    At 680 people, the $1MM in direct services covers a hair over $4/day per person. I’m sure the folks panhandling do better than that in an hour. What are we trying to accomplish?

  • guest

    That’s an interesting observation that demands an explanation from the city.

  • PragmaticProgressive


    Seriously, as you already know (but others may not), McKinney-Vento says that you can stay in the school where you are enrolled for the rest of the year after you find housing. And then you’re supposed to enroll where you now live.

    But BUSD doesn’t follow up on students: instead, they just hand out BART passes and collect the ADA money from the state that should properly go to the districts where the students live.

    And even though BUSD’s federal grant for McKinney-Vento was not renewed, the district wants to double down and hire a full time staffer who will, I’m sure, do absolutely nothing to reduce the number of students in the district whose presence justifies his/her position.

  • EBGuy

    From the November 14, 2012 Board of Education Packet (via BAS):
    In categorizing their living situations, 710 are living with another family or family member, 100 are in a shelter or transitional housing, 5 live in a motel/hotel, and 11 are unsheltered in vehicles, parks, churches, etc.

  • The Sharkey

    Those are included in the numbers from this study.

    The broader study also allows us to count those who make up the hidden homeless: households who are living temporarily with friends, relatives,
    or in a motel who do not have the resources to move into housing and
    have been notified that the situation is short-term; or households that
    are facing eviction within 7 days.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    The other thing that was annoyingly imprecise about those numbers is the “710 are living with another family or family member” figure.

    If that’s the case, is the district saying that there is a large amount of overlap between the homeless category and the caregiver affidavit category? That is what it sounds like and would certainly alter the count in a significant way.

  • guest

    “Families w/children” would obviously not include runaways. I personally know at least 3 Berkeley High students who are homeless but not with their families. (I say ‘at least” because I only know the situation of these 3 for certain)

  • guest

    adding: not just runaways, but kids who have been kicked out of their home for one reason or another. LGBT kids are many of these.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Yup, there are definitely legitimate cases. But there is also widespread abuse. And little explanation as to why these students are in Berkeley in such large numbers as opposed to other districts.

    Or are you saying that the runaways / kicked-out kids are all from Berkeley? I would find that difficult to believe, much as I find it difficult to believe that we’ve had an enormous spike in kindergarten enrollment without a corresponding change in the city’s population for that age group. Kindergarteners do not, as a rule, run away or get kicked out of their home.

    Regarding the three cases that you do know of: are these kids staying with someone in Berkeley or in another city? If that someone is a relative, are they on a caregiver affidavit? Or, if not a relative, are they registered to foster the child?

  • guest

    A lot of these kids come to Berkeley for one reason or another, after being kicked out or having run away from _wherever_ ( I only know American kids, personally)

    I don’t know the full situation of my acquaintances, two seem to be living, as they can, with friends or family (couch surfing?) one sleeps mostly outdoors as far as I can tell.

    I wish I was in a situation where I could host or help everyone I know that needs it…

  • PragmaticProgressive

    “one reason or another” … “run away from _wherever_” … “with friends or family”

    Sounds like you don’t have very many concrete facts at all.

    How do you know that being in Berkeley is the best outcome for these kids? That there isn’t a worried parent trying to locate a missing child? That they haven’t run away after harming someone else? How do you know the people who they’re staying with — if they aren’t family and aren’t registered to foster (with associated oversight) — are acting in the kid’s best interests?

  • guest

    Look: like I said; I wish i could help everyone that needs it… I do what I can.
    If a kid feels safe in the situation he or she is in, and isn’t causing any trouble that i know of, I am not going to meddle. Perhaps that is the school’s responsibility.
    I feel much more concerned about friends that are sleeping outside: particularly, as I mentioned, the highschooler. Particularly in the rain. But as much as I would like to help, I can’t responsibly have them all in my livingroom… again, I do what I can .
    By the way, when i say “a lot”, you know I’m referring to more than 3 kids about whose information I am fairly certain, right? There are other kids out there.

  • guest

    why would you assume that they are lying? What benefit is there to them?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Ah, but you are “meddling” by perpetuating this outsized population of minors living without adult supervision or in registered foster care. You should call child protective services so that these kids can be placed appropriately. If they were indeed thrown out by their parents,then the state can sue them to cover the cost of housing and educating these kids. But minors sleeping out in the rain? Why on earth wouldn’t you call CPS?

  • The Sharkey

    I would assume that they are lying because they weren’t recognized by the study.
    The benefit to them is that they get to go to enroll at BUSD instead of whatever school system they would normally enroll in.

    I suppose it’s possible that this homeless count study is just completely worthless, but it seems more thorough than what BUSD does.