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COUNTING THE HOMELESS: THE FIRST STEP TOWARD PERMANENT HOUSING
Coordinated entry for homeless services to ease the path to success
Berkeley, California (Tuesday, January 31, 2017) - Hundreds of people spread across Alameda County Tuesday morning to count the number of homeless, the first step toward our ultimate goal of getting people into permanent housing.
Special effort was made to count the homeless in Berkeley, where the City has launched a more streamlined effort to get people into services that lead them into long-term housing.
"Counting the number of people sleeping outdoors, in shelters or in transitional housing is critical to helping us understand the size and scope of homelessness in Berkeley," said Paul Buddenhagen, Berkeley's Health, Housing & Community Services Director. "Our finish line is safe, permanent housing for everyone, beginning with our most chronically homeless."
More than 200 people with current lived experience of homelessness led small teams of volunteers starting at 5 am. These guides, coordinated by the nonprofit EveryOne Home, used their knowledge to identify and lead teams to locations and determine if there are individuals experiencing homelessness.
Guides, city and county staff, nonprofit service providers and more than 500 volunteers tallied the number of people sleeping outdoors. Data was also collected from local shelters and transitional housing sites to enumerate the sheltered homeless population. For the next two weeks, surveys will be conducted to gather demographic information, health conditions, veteran's status, housing history, and connection to the community. The data should be available by the end of the year.
Successfully getting housing services in Berkeley was, just over a year ago, similar to other jurisdictions: homeless people were required to navigate a maze of different agencies. Intakes were duplicated. So were some services. The most high-functioning could make their way through. The most needy - and least able to help themselves - languished, ingraining a systemic problem.
The City launched an entirely new system a year ago to follow national best practices, and making Berkeley's model the pioneer for all of Alameda County. There is now a single point of entry, The Hub, which prioritizes resources for those with the highest need: long-term homeless people with a disability. Changing an entire system of delivering human services takes time. We are continually looking for ways to improve. Other cities in Alameda County are now looking to replicate what Berkeley has done at The Hub, which is operated by the nonprofit Berkeley Food and Housing Project with City funding and guidance.
The creation of The Hub also represents a shift in the City's approach toward services. The City used to mostly provide emergency short-term relief and basic needs, such as shelter beds and drop-in centers. While those services are important, especially in the winter when rain and cold can be harsh, the City now increasingly focuses on helping people get into and stay in housing. Of the $3.6 million the City provides to community agencies to help people experiencing homelessness, two out of every three dollars is spent on helping individuals get into and remain in permanent housing, the latter being a particular problem for those who have been chronically homeless.
"Building our new homeless services delivery system is a learning process and we are working closely with our partners to improve effectiveness," says Buddenhagen. "Despite challenges, we know through studies and research that other communities reduced homelessness significantly by focusing resources to the high-need, chronically homeless population."
There are currently plans to expand the model throughout Alameda County. The data from Tuesday's homeless count will provide invaluable insight on the size, characteristics, and needs of our homeless population as we begin to implement this new approach. The challenge of addressing homelessness in our community will not be easy. It requires adequate resources, unified vision, and leadership. However, the benefits include improved health, equity, and quality of life for all of Berkeley.
Tuesday's Point-in-Time count is required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which provides approximately $4.8 million for transitional and permanent housing for homeless individuals in Berkeley. The last count, conducted in January 2015, estimated that there were 834 homeless people in Berkeley on a single night. For more information visit www.everyonehome.org/everyone-counts.
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