Op-ed: A year in, The Hub’s new model for providing homeless services is working

A year ago on Jan. 5, 2016, Berkeley Food & Housing Project, in partnership with the City of Berkeley and in response to a sweeping change in national homeless policy, launched a new model to provide services to the men and women and children of our community who are experiencing homelessness.

This new model centralized access to city-funded homeless services and prioritized the most vulnerable homeless individuals and families and those most in need of intense services to successfully resolve their homelessness. Prior to this, people were forced to go to numerous agencies and there wasn’t a way to ensure that they received all the services for which they were eligible. Now those experiencing housing can come to The Hub at 1901 Fairview St. near Adeline Street and receive access to the help they need. This new coordinated and centralized system allows the city to collect data about the needs and demographics of the people experiencing homelessness in Berkeley. It also prevents the duplication of services.

As we end year one of the new model for homeless services delivery in Berkeley, I would like to reflect on our successes, challenges faced, and lessons learned.

We all know there is a critical shortage of affordable housing in the Bay Area. Finding housing for people with no recent tenancy is a challenge. Finding that housing and having it affordable is an even bigger challenge. And sometimes, when we do find housing, it may not be in Berkeley, disappointing those who want to remain here. Not everybody can get exactly what he or she wants.

Running a new pilot program invariably means that we don’t get everything right from the beginning. Over this past year, as this new system of service delivery developed, we learned a lot about what was working and what wasn’t working so well. As frequently as twice a month, we analyzed and evaluated our data in order to allow us to pivot quickly, to adjust procedures, and to redeploy human resources.

The new services system requires a tremendous amount of interagency coordination. Through a series of monthly collaboration meetings, Berkeley homeless service agencies have worked alongside of us, to develop this new system together. This has required an “all in” approach. We are grateful to our collaborative partners, especially our shelter providers YEAH! and BOSS for the ongoing feedback and willingness to find solutions.

This new centralized system has given us the ability to create a “by name” list of the most vulnerable homeless people in Berkeley. In the past year, we have assessed and prioritized 232 individuals as highly vulnerable and most in need. Of those 232, 37 have already moved into housing and another 83 are in a “housing search.” These numbers may seem small, a drop in the ocean of the 893* homeless in Berkeley, but this is incredibly hard work and we see every individual who gets and maintains housing as a victory. We are learning that as the system gets built, the flow to housing is speeding up. For the 600 or so remaining individuals and families they are matched with county-funded shelter and case management services, drug treatment, job training, DV services, and veteran’s services. Homeless families are referred to the North County Resource Center.

One of the lessons we learned early on was that we needed to deploy our intake staff outdoors. As our outreach team, deployed in January, began to meet people in Berkeley’s five main encampments, we realized that doing the actual intakes in encampments is an essential and effective means to begin relationships with many of those living outdoors. So starting in March, our intake workers and case managers joined our outreach team , bringing services outdoors. The Housing First model is focused on helping people move into housing as quickly as possible and removing whatever barriers to tenancy might exist. And if someone doesn’t want to live in a shelter or decides to leave a shelter, we continue to work with them and continue to assist with their transition into housing. Services are no longer predicated on having to live in a shelter first as they used to be.

We have also been heartened to learn that it is still possible, in this hyper inflated market, to find landlords who are willing to take a risk and potentially lose some profit in order to give someone a chance to reintegrate into the community.

Just two weeks ago, we helped move a 66-year-old gentleman with co-occurring disorders, HIV, and a 10+ year-plus history of homelessness, into brand new affordable senior housing. He was so happy to be in his own place for the holidays.

I am so proud of the Berkeley community of providers who have all been working under difficult circumstances. I look forward to this time next year when, hopefully, I can report that we have housed most of the 83 people who are currently in “housing search” and that we have brought another 80 high priority individuals into the housing search process. We remain committed to serving, learning, improving, and housing people.

Berkeley Food & Housing Project was founded in 1970 and, in addition, to running the  Hub on behalf of the City of Berkeley, operates a free community meal , a men’s and a women’s shelter, family transitional housing, veteran transitional housing , and a permanent supportive housing program for formerly homeless adults with severe mental disabilities. All of these programs are located in Berkeley. In addition, BFHP runs a three-county rapid rehousing program aimed at preventing and ending veteran homelessness.

*2015 Alameda County Homeless Count

Related:
Protesters criticize Berkeley homeless services center (10.07.16)
Berkeley seeks to house those most in need at The Hub (06.29.16)

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Terrie Light is the executive director of Berkeley Food & Housing Project, which runs The Hub for the city of Berkeley.