OAKLAND (BCN)-- A recent count recorded 5,629 homeless people in Alameda County, which represents an increase of nearly 40 percent over the last count two years ago, the head of a homeless organization said today.
"This problem is growing and we have a new baseline but it doesn't have to become our new normal," Elaine de Coligny, the executive director of EveryOne Home, said at a news conference in front of the Alameda County administration building in Oakland.
De Coligny called for developers to commit to allocating more than 20 percent of new housing units for people whose income is less than 20 percent of the local median income, for voters to pressure California lawmakers to spend more money on producing and preserving affordable housing, and for property owners and landlords to commit to renting to homeless people.
Joining de Coligny at the news conference, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said, "These numbers confirm what we already knew, which is that homelessness has grown exponentially."
Referring to the dramatic increase of homeless encampments in Oakland, Schaaf said, "We see it every day on our streets and it's painful to drive by our former neighbors who were formerly housed in Oakland and Alameda County."
Schaaf said many homeless people suffer from disabilities, mental health issues and chemical dependencies, "but they all deserve dignity and care."
One man, named Jim, says he's been living on the streets of West Oakland for the past seven years, ever since he lost his job as a mechanic.
"I scrounge. Man I'm 50 years old, I'm still checking dumpsters," said Jim, who wouldn't reveal his last name.
He's found that is a lot easier to become homeless than it is to get out of it.
"The jobs are being gobbled up by people coming in. When I clean up i clean up well. It's hard to stay clean out here," said Jim.
Jim is one of 5,629 people counted as homeless in Alameda County, according to this year's survey. That's almost a 40 percent increase in the past two years.
Like Jim, about half of the county's homeless are in Oakland which has almost 2,800. That is about 600 more than in 2015.
The mayor said she and other Oakland officials are increasing their spending on programs and services for homeless people, including the expansion of a recent pilot program in West Oakland in which the city provided sanitation and trash services at an encampment.
Schaaf also said she and other community leaders in Alameda County will host a summit this summer that will develop a coordinated plan to try to solve the homelessness problem, which she said has now reached "a crisis level in Oakland." The report shows Oakland, by far, has the largest homeless population in Alameda County.
"I haven't given up on myself. I haven't given up on my life. I still have dreams and aspirations for my life," said Jim while sweeping the dirt off the sidewalk from around his tent."