Tag Archives: Berkeley homelessness

At the Write Home Project, the young homeless are heard

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By Victor Casillas Valle

Nestled behind St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, on Bancroft Way in Berkeley, is one huge set of steel steps covered in rust and foliage. Walking up them, there’s a feeling of urban beauty, something that is calming with a rush of city excitement. Reaching the top, you enter a high-ceilinged auditorium with huge windows and an airy sense of natural light. Every Monday, the room is filled with conversation rising from the writing workshop, or occasional open mic, provided by the Write Home Project.

Conceived and run by two UC Berkeley alumni and working poets, Gabriel Cortez and Natasha Huey, The Write Home Project facilitates creative arts work by homeless youth (under 25). Write Home provides an outlet for its participants to be heard while they tell stories about, and create a dialogue around, the state of homelessness. … Continue reading »

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Caltrans fence forces homeless to find new camp

The people who used to sleep under the Gilman/I-80 underpass are trying to adjust to their new cramped sleeping situation. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Responding to complaints that the homeless people who camped under the Gilman/I-80 underpass were engaged in criminal activity, Caltrans has fenced off the area — pushing the encampment onto a narrow strip nearby.

Caltrans installed the fencing between Feb. 10 and March 6 at the request of the Berkeley Police Department, “in order to help curtail criminal activity in the area,” said Caltrans spokesman Robert Haus via email.

“We have had complaints regarding criminal activity associated with the encampment down there,” said police spokeswoman officer Jennifer Coats via email. “We have reached out to those camping in the area through members of our Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), Area Coordinators, and Mobile Crisis workers.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley dumps possessions of 8 homeless people

Leroy Morgan. Phon: Bryan Westfall
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The city of Berkeley collected and threw away the unattended possessions of eight homeless people on Dec. 26. Afterwards many of them said they had to scramble to find new blankets and coverings to stave off the chill of recent winter nights, although the city said it had sifted through the items for valuables such as those and found none. One of the homeless men said the items that were taken were vital to his survival.

The city confiscated about 13 shopping carts filled with possessions on a piece of city property on Eastshore Highway and Gilman the day after Christmas because workers thought the items had been abandoned, according to Matthai Chakko, a spokesman for Berkeley. Staff sorted through the goods and, when they did not find anything of value, dumped it.

“They did clear property that was unattended,” Chakko said. “They looked through it and didn’t find anything valuable. They didn’t find tents, or sleeping bags, or blankets. We would have bagged, tagged, and contained them.” … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Why oppose building new homes for the homeless?

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The homeless are the most marginalized and dispossessed people in the United States. To be homeless is to experience a wide spectrum of discrimination. In the past decade, legislation seeking to criminalize the homeless has gained popularity in cities that are fed up or exasperated with the “homeless problem”.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reported that between 30% and 50% of major American cities criminalize some form of homelessness, ranging from “aggressive” panhandling to simply sitting on the sidewalk.

Our own city … Continue reading »

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Berkeley considers ‘visionary’ homeless housing project

City officials are considering the possibility of turning this parking lot into a supportive homeless housing complex. Image: Google Maps
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Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council took its first steps at considering a “super-green affordable housing project” that would offer extensive services to the homeless on the site of what’s now a 112-spot parking lot at Berkeley Way and Henry Street.

The “innovative housing and services center with permanently supportive housing, along with emergency shelter and supportive services” would “meet a critical need, and help further the City’s goals to end homelessness,” according to a staff report from Tuesday’s meeting.

Members of the business community have expressed concerns about the loss of parking during construction, and said the parking supply would need to be doubled to ensure that visitors to downtown, who are expected to increase as the area is revitalized, will have access to readily available spots. They noted that decreased parking already in effect or planned, with the construction of the new Berkeley Art Museum and a proposal to demolish and rebuild the Center Street garage. … Continue reading »

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City to consider new approach to emergency shelters

Emergency homeless shelters could be allowed year-round in commercial zones (pink, 60 beds, and yellow, 25 beds) without a permit; and seasonally in high-density residential zones (blue, 15 beds) without a permit. Click the image to view a larger map.) Image: City of Berkeley and Berkeleyside
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Berkeley’s Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing in September to consider changes to the municipal zoning code to make it easier to open emergency homeless shelters in certain commercial and high-density residential areas, according to a notice sent out by email late last week.

The changes could allow providers to open shelters without the use permit that is currently required. State legislation, Senate Bill 2, mandates cities to have at least one zoning designation that allows shelters to be located without discretionary government review.

In some commercial areas, emergency shelters with up to 60 beds could be allowed year-round without a permit; in high-density residential areas, the commission is slated to consider winter season shelters only, with a limit of 15 beds. … Continue reading »

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New talks on homelessness in Berkeley start Thursday

Derrick Coetzee
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Thursday evening, the Berkeley Task Force on Homelessness will begin a new community-driven process designed to explore homelessness in Berkeley, and how it might be addressed thoughtfully and humanely.

Initiated by Councilman Jesse Arreguín, the task force was created “to continue the much-needed conversation on homelessness after Measure S, which would have banned sitting on commercial sidewalks, narrowly failed last fall,” according to a statement released by Arreguín’s office Wednesday. The task force arose as an alternative way to address homelessness.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Food and Housing Project wins $1m grant

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Berkeley Food and Housing Project was recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last week with a grant of more than $1 million to expand its services to homeless veterans.

“This is huge for our agency,” Jim Huntley, BFHP director of advancement, said. “This is a population that really needs all the help that society can muster.”

The VA currently helps to fund the nonprofit’s small-scale men’s shelter, which has the capacity to provide food, shelter and other services to 12 homeless veterans at a time. With the help of the $1,007,000 Roads Home grant, the shelter will be able to increase the number of homeless veterans it can help and almost double the area it covers, by extending services to Solano and Contra Costa counties. The money will officially become available to the organization in October. … Continue reading »

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Op-Ed: Berkeley needs a year-round youth shelter

One resident's bed and belongings, on the last day before the YEAH shelter closed for the summer
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Last week, Berkeley’s only youth shelter — Youth Engagement, Advocacy, and Housing (YEAH!) –closed its doors, not to reopen until November. At 7:00 in the morning, the shelter’s young residents began walking out onto the street, carrying all of their belongings. Some asked to borrow a blanket before they left. Despite months of effort by shelter staff to find other placements, there were only a few transitional housing spots available. Most of the youth, ages 18-25, left the shelter without anywhere stable to stay. One young man, when asked what his plan was, said he had to get to class—he will have to study for and take his community college exams without a safe place to sleep at night.  … Continue reading »

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People’s Park focal point for countywide homeless count

A man with a gun raped a woman in People's Park on Sunday Sept. 1. Photo: Tracey Taylor
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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.) … Continue reading »

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Berkeley moves towards a consensus homeless plan

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After an acrimonious battle last year over Measure S, which sought to prohibit sitting on commercial sidewalks, Berkeley’s City Council pointed the way on Tuesday night to a more consensual approach to homelessness.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín’s Compassionate Sidewalks plan calls for a working group on homelessness to “conduct a series of focused workshops and discussions on a wide range of issues related to homelessness and to develop an action plan with policy, program, and funding recommendations around ending homelessness.” (Arreguín wrote about his proposal in a Berkeleyside op-ed on Monday.) … Continue reading »

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Op-Ed: After Measure S, it’s time to act on homelessness

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Although Berkeley voters rejected Measure S, a controversial proposal that would have criminalized sitting on commercial sidewalks, we shouldn’t mistake it as an endorsement of inaction. The simple fact still remains: we need to address homelessness.

I didn’t support Measure S, but I’m not calling it a day as many do post-election. Next Tuesday, City Council will have the opportunity to continue the critical conversation around homelessness with the Compassionate Sidewalks Plan — a blueprint for creating consensus-based solutions … Continue reading »

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Has it gotten harder to be homeless in Berkeley?

Measure S would prohibit sitting on the sidewalk, during certain hours, in Berkeley’s commercial districts. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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After the failure of Measure S to pass in November, we heard from one reader who said there seemed to have been harsher enforcement around town of violations related to homelessness. The reader said a homeless friend had been hassled by police when trying to sleep in a regular spot, and also wanted to know about new rules at the library that limit the size and type of items that can be brought inside.

The reader sent us an email in December detailing the changes, and asked Berkeleyside to learn more.

“Since the no-sit measure failed, the city has begun new, more aggressive treatment of the homeless. My homeless neighbor … has been told he could sleep in the doorway of a movie theater but last night, a cop rousted him from his dry, out-of-the-rain perch in the theater’s doorway. The cop said the theater could face stiff fines for giving [my neighbor] permission to sleep in their doorway on a rainy night.” … Continue reading »

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