City, county leaders seek regional approach to homelessness

OAKLAND (BCN) City and county leaders in Alameda County agreed today that the homelessness problem is becoming so serious that it's time to consider taking a countywide approach to trying to solve the long-running problem.

Speaking at a special joint meeting of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors' health and social services committees, Supervisor Keith Carson said, "We should think about having a countywide homelessness task force that includes all 14 cities in the county."

Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks agreed, saying, "We should take a comprehensive regional approach because it (the homelessness problem) is getting increasingly worse."

Brooks said the county is in the best position at taking the lead in combating the issue because it already provides behavioral care, health care services and social services.

"We should move forward expeditiously," she said.

Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said, "It is time for Oakland, Alameda County and our surrounding jurisdictions to take a more effective action -- low barrier-to-entry homeless facilities called
navigation centers which include both living spaces and social services on site."

Kaplan said, "Currently, it is hard for many homeless people to use existing shelters, both because some are often full and many have strict rules for entry which exclude certain people."

Kaplan said other cities are now experimenting with an easier-to-access model which allows those camping on streets and sidewalks to have a safer alternative location to go to and to stay while receiving
services and support and being matched for longer-term housing.

Kaplan also asked that Oakland and Alameda County, and other nearby cities if possible, work together to establish, fund and launch additional sites to provide those types of homeless services.

Supervisor Nate Miley, who chairs the social services committee, said, "I believe we are facing a state of emergency and cities and counties must step up and do more to fight homelessness together by prioritizing the
issue of housing first, ahead of everything else."

Miley said, "The tragedy that is homelessness has become increasingly visible on our streets. Taking a housing first approach - paired with social services - as a regional strategy, opens the door to an array of
quick housing solutions and sets the stage for our collective theory of

Sara Bedford, Oakland's Director of Human Services, said a new approach should be taken because, "People are being forced to live on the streets in crisis proportions."

She said providing more housing is one action that should be taken as soon as possible, saying, "We believe housing is the solution to homelessness."

Brooks said, "This is an ongoing crisis in our community and in all of our cities. The working poor can't afford to stay in their houses."

City leaders from Berkeley, Fremont, Hayward, Union City, Emeryville and San Leandro also spoke at the six-hour-long meeting today.