Berkeley mayoral hopefuls weigh in on homelessness

Old City Hall. Photo by Melati Citrawireja
Old City Hall is set to have a new mayor come November. How will he or she approach homelessness? Photo: Melati Citrawireja

With longtime Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates completing what he says will be his last term, six people have expressed interest in running for his seat come November 2016. Berkeleyside asked each of them to share their views, in 200 words, about what they see as potential solutions to ending homelessness. Read their ideas below.

See full coverage on Berkeleyside of the Berkeley Homeless Project.

Click the candidate’s name or photograph to reach the campaign website to learn more. Berkeleyside will provide in-depth coverage about the election later in the year. Responses appear below in the order they were received.

Guy “Mike” Lee

Photo: Lee campaign
Lee: “The current system is broken.” Photo: Lee campaign

It is of great concern to me and all Citizens of Berkeley that despite spending $3 million dollars in the last fiscal year the homeless population has mushroomed by 53%. No one including the current city council has publicly stated why this has occurred.


The current system is broken based on either criminalization or charity because there is no strategic plan. My focus is to provide a hand up and not a hand out.

Recently I sent two proposals to City Council which will immediately reduce the homeless population by 20%. The first deals with re purposing West Berkeley Senior Center. Converting it into a shelter for 100 homeless elders. The cost to the taxpayer is $1.25 a year. It will also provide others emergency shelter during the winter months. Secondly creating a bunkhouse shelter for the working poor at a zero cost. Both of these are in addition to the Tiny House proposal which I initiated. This exciting strategy promises to instantaneously reduce the population even further.

In order to solve this problem we must include the expert opinion of the homeless themselves. When you need a tooth pulled do you go to an expert or an auto mechanic?

Laurie Capitelli

Photo: Capitelli campaign
Capitelli: “We cannot solve this ourselves.” Photo: Capitelli campaign

Homelessness is a multifaceted problem that includes populations with complex needs. Homelessness is also a regional issue, one in which we must partner with our regional colleagues. My long term approaches include:

Homeless Coordinated Entry or “HUB”: a one­stop entry for mental health services, temporary financial support, substance abuse programs and job training which opened in January, 2016.

Supportive Housing in the Downtown: I support the Berkeley Food and Housing and Bridge Foundation proposal for downtown Berkeley that will house the HUB and provide emergency and supportive housing.

Tiny Homes: I am partnering with Mayoral candidate Mike Lee on a Tiny Homes project. Supported by the Building Trades and Berkeley Rotary, we will soon create a demonstration home to facilitate a community conversation regarding the feasibility of a Tiny Home Village.

But long term solutions require stop­gap measures. I have supported access to more restrooms in the downtown and the creation of storage lockers which, at a minimum, can provide for a secure place for Berkeley’s homeless to store their belongings.

We cannot solve this ourselves, but with our limited resources we can serve our residents through innovative programs that can be models for the rest of the Bay Area.

Bernt Wahl (no photo provided)

This is just an idea, but there might be a supervised campground by the seashore that people can stay for a limited period. Homeless would need to do chores. We also could build temp housing units with container crates in the same region. Give homeless a chance to do productive things that potential give them the skills to get jobs.

Ben Gould

Gould: "The only real solution to chronic homelessness is housing." Photo: Gould campaign
Gould: “The only real solution to chronic homelessness is housing.” Photo: Gould campaign

The only real solution to chronic homelessness is housing. Other cities, including San Francisco, have found that proving housing with supportive services works. It’s also cheaper than providing the services needed to help people living on the street. Berkeley should work with other local governments in the region to both expand our housing-first programs and simultaneously build more subsidized affordable housing, to help keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.

However, Berkeley also faces a unique situation with its homeless student population. Undergraduates are almost all automatically disqualified from federally subsidized affordable housing, and UC Berkeley doesn’t currently provide housing for undergraduates after their first year.

Both the City and the campus share a responsibility for ending student homelessness. The university has an obligation to ensure its students can attend, but the exceptionally high cost of living is the result of our own zoning and other policies explicitly designed to raise the price of housing. To ensure Cal students can afford to live where they work, study, and play, the City should work with the university to identify sites where more student housing can be built, and help subsidize it for students who need the support.

Jesse Arreguín

Photo: Arreguin campaign
Arreguín: “We need real solutions.” Photo: Arreguín campaign

Berkeley is facing a homelessness crisis, with over 1,000 people living on our streets. The debate about how to address homelessness in our city is nothing new. Some believe we need a one dimensional, criminalization approach. But this approach fails to recognize the basic humanity of people and will not solve the problem.

We need real solutions. That’s why I convened a Homeless Task Force to look in depth at the issue of homelessness. The Task Force developed a comprehensive homeless plan which can serve as a roadmap for Berkeley.

What we learned is that Housing First must be our priority. By getting people housed we can provide services, case management and keep them housed. But first we need to invest taxpayer dollars towards creating more transitional and permanent housing.

We must also expand outreach, emergency mental health treatment, and basic amenities like restrooms and storage so people don’t abuse public spaces. More warming centers and emergency shelters are needed during cold winter months.

I will be laying out my homeless plan in the coming weeks and look forward to talking with Berkeley voters on this critical issue. Please contact me at jesse@jesse.vote to share your views.

(Berkeleyside did not receive a response from candidates Naomi Pete or Zachary Running Wolf.)

Related:
Gilman Street underpass: For many, the poster child of Berkeley homeless camps (06.29.16)
Share your questions about homelessness in Berkeley (06.21.16)
Homelessness in Berkeley: The fact sheet (06.29.16)
Photos: Living on the streets of Berkeley (06.29.16)
Berkeley seeks to house those most in need at The Hub (06.29.16)
Berkeley homelessness: A timeline from 1982 to 2016 (06.29.16)
Homelessness in Berkeley: An overview (06.29.16)
Berkeleyside will focus on homelessness Wednesday (06.28.19)
Share your questions about homelessness in Berkeley (06.21.16)

SF Homeless Project logoBerkeleyside will publish stories on homelessness throughout the day Wednesday. Check back for continuing coverage. Want to share your thoughts on homelessness to help shape future coverage? Weigh in here.

See full coverage on Berkeleyside of the Berkeley Homeless Project. Read more about homelessness in Berkeley. This story is part of the Bay Area-wide initiative to document homeless issues. This endeavor, The San Francisco Homeless Project, includes 70 media organizations. Connect with the project on Facebook and Twitter.