For the first time ever, the city of Berkeley has created a team of outreach workers focused on getting chronically homeless, mentally ill individuals off the streets and into housing, staff said Wednesday.
The new homeless outreach and treatment team is getting off the ground this month under the leadership of longtime staffer Eve Ahmed, who has been with the city since 1993. The team will work in Berkeley and Albany to provide mental health treatment and connect clients to services — with the eventual goal of getting those living on the streets into long-term housing.
Paul Buddenhagen, the city’s director of Health, Housing and Community Services, said he is thrilled about the new team, which will continue the city’s efforts to coordinate and streamline services for those who need it most. Last year, the city created a one-stop homeless services center, dubbed “The Hub,” with a similar goal. The new street team will work closely with The Hub to identify clients, Buddenhagen said.
“It’s not something we’ve had before,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “This is really a brand new thing.”
The five-person team, including case managers and a public health nurse, are from the city’s Mental Health division. The team “will meet people wherever they are – including parks, shelters, encampments, and sidewalks. These case managers will focus on the people that studies show are the most critical to help: the long-term homeless who suffer from disabilities, specifically mental health,” the city said in a statement.
The outreach team aims to connect those on the streets with other resources too, such as help with health concerns and potential job placement.
The city says it will consider a range of criteria to identify clients. They include “living with mental illness, suffering from addiction, frequent use of emergency rooms and other public resources, and problematic street behavior,” the city said.
The approach will be intensive, according to the city, because it can take years to get chronically homeless individuals off the streets due to the complexity of their situations. Add mental illness into the mix, and the challenges grow.
“This expanded, more coordinated outreach effort seeks to interrupt the destructive cycle of hospitalization, incarceration, and homelessness that’s too frequently experienced by those with serious mental illness who have been unable or unwilling to participate in services,” the city said.
Buddenhagen said four members of the team are already in place: Ahmed and another prior city employee are joining two brand new hires. The team has been training together for the past two weeks, and began visiting homeless encampments and other locations around the city in the past week to get the lay of the land. They’ve been meeting with homeless service providers and visiting places homeless individuals congregate to get oriented with Berkeley’s current situation, Buddenhagen said.
As in the past, the city will continue to respond to neighborhood and business community concerns if problems arise relating to street behavior, but the emphasis for the team will be on building relationships with set clients and getting them the help they need.
“Our expanded outreach team is a vital component of this reimagined system of homeless services,” Buddenhagen said in a prepared statement. “Too often, people that need our help the most don’t get it, and I am excited that our outreach and treatment team will be on our streets addressing that problem.”