One year after homeless special, we checked in with Berkeley's mayor

- “We are in a crisis and you’re right, there is no one solution.”  That was Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin one year ago during a KTVU special called Bay Area Homeless: Crisis or concern? 

Now we’re circling back with Bay Area leaders to find out what has happened in the year since our special with the homeless situation.  

Mayor Arreguin at the time said housing first was the best solution, but that it takes time for cities to develop that inventory of housing. 

“It’s still a crisis. We see more people on the streets. We have over 1,000 individuals without permanent housing.” Arreguin said the city of Berkeley is still working to connect these people to shelters, social services and permanent housing. 

Over the summer, Berkeley opened its first homeless navigation center—The STAIR Center, similar to a program in San Francisco. 56 individuals have been served so far since the center’s opening at the end of June, 11 of which, according to the mayor, have been placed in permanent housing. 

“Our outreach team has visited 11 of the major homeless encampments in the city of Berkeley and has engaged with 135 individuals,” Arreguin said.  

Still, in the last year, the city has engaged in pre-dawn raids of homeless camps after serving eviction notices. One of those last February involved 25 police officers and a couple dozen workers with the city’s parks department.

The encampment with at least 39 tents was cleared after residents complained of health violations and at least one fire stemming from this encampment. 

The evictions notices did not give a specific deadline and many homeless advocates were present during the encampment clearing to show their support.  

Arreguin said he’s open to installing more navigation centers, describing them as low-barrier, meaning there are no restrictions on unhoused pets belonging to homeless residents. Additionally, there are no restrictions on homeless couples living together, which has been a barrier for those seeking asylum at more traditional shelters.  

“They are 24/7 and provide a wide array of services,” Arreguin said. Those services include mental health services and employment services. 

Within two weeks of opening Arreguin’s office released a press statement that said the navigation center was at capacity within two weeks of opening. 

“The goal is to move our existing shelter model towards a navigation center model. Whatever we do needs to be focused on housing.” 

The mayor said a recent Point-in Time count from the National Alliance to End Homelessness surveyed the homeless and it shows the vast majority of them want to be housed. Close to 70% of those surveyed were previously housed individuals in Alameda County. 

“This myth that San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland have sort of become a magnet for people who are trying to access these services—these are people who lost their housing due to rising housing costs or other circumstances," said Arreguin. 

Berkeley has an affordable housing measure coming up on November’s ballot. Arreguin describes Measure O as a $135 million housing bond. It provides permanent supportive housing as well as workforce housing. 

Meanwhile, the city’s Measure P provides more social services including mental health services. 

Watch: Bay Area Homeless: Crisis or concern?

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