Number of people living in cars, RVs and tents increases in Berkeley

A woman walks by a man sleeping on the sidewalk on Center Street. Photo: Ted Friedman

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Berkeley went up 14% in the last two years, climbing from 972 individuals in 2017 to 1,108 in 2019, according to a new report released by EveryoneHome, which conducted an on-the-ground-survey of the population in January. Since January 2015, Berkeley’s homeless population has increased by 32.8%.

The number of people who are unsheltered went up from 68% (664) of the population in 2017 to 74% (813) in 2019. For the first time, most of Berkeley’s unsheltered homeless population is sleeping in RVs and cars, followed by those sleeping in tents and on the street, according to the report.

About 161 people live in vans with another 157 living in cars, making them 39% of the unsheltered homeless population and 29% of the overall homeless population. About 251 people, or 23% of the total homeless population, live in tents. while 231 people, or 21% of the total homeless population, sleep on the street, according to the report.

These statistics are the results of volunteers fanning out across Berkeley — and Alameda County  — on Jan. 30. Hundreds of trained questioners and volunteers walked every census tract looking for people living on the street, in cars and RVs, and in abandoned buildings. In addition, counts were made in shelters.


The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires counties to do this kind of  “point-in-time count” (meaning on a single day) every two years in order to receive federal funds to address homelessness issues. In Alameda County, the non-profit EveryOneHome coordinated the count and survey.

HUD counts people as homeless when they are:

  • Living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangement; or
  • With a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground.

Number of homeless is up 14%, but the increase is lower than in other cities

While the homeless count is up 14% (Berkeleyside had reported in July that the number was 13% because we only had access to an informal report), the increase was smaller than those in nearby cities. Oakland’s homeless population increased by 47%. San Francisco went up by 30%. And in Alameda County, the population increased by 43%.

There were some positive developments, according to Matthai Chakko, a city spokesman. All families experiencing homelessness had shelter in 2019; that was not the case in 2017. The number of homeless families stayed flat. And the number of youth and transition-aged youth decreased by 57%, from 189 in 2017 to 82 in 2019, he said. That may be due to a new counting method, though, he said.

The Everyone Counts! presents graphics showing statistics

A graphic of those who make up Berkeley’s homeless population. Source: EveryoneHome’s EveryoneCounts! 2019 Homeless Count and Survey

Source: EveryoneCounts! 2019 Homeless Count and Survey
Health conditions. Source: EveryoneCounts! 2019 Homeless Count and Survey

Most of the people making up Berkeley’s homeless population are single male adults over 24 who are African-American. Fifty-seven percent of the homeless population is black, compared to 9% of Berkeley’s general population. Twenty-nine percent of the homeless population is white compared to a general white population in Berkeley of 60%, according to the report.

More than one-third of the people living on the streets in Berkeley (35%) were identified as chronically homeless in 2019. That is up from 27% in 2017. About 7% of the population were identified as veterans.

The vast majority of those who are homeless live in West Berkeley, according to the report:

Most homeless live in West Berkeley. Source: EveryoneCounts! 2019 Homeless Count and Survey

While the point-in-time count on Jan. 3o found 1,108 people who were experiencing homelessness, Berkeley officials believe that during the course of a year around 2,000 people without permanent shelter come through the city. Finding them all permanent housing could cost as much as $43 million, according to city estimates.

See the entire report.