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City Council delays housing contract

By John Geluardi, Daily Planet staff
Friday November 02, 2001

Funding would continue hotel’s emergency homeless aid  


Councilmember Linda Maio pulled a $100,000 contract to provide emergency housing off the City Council’s consent calendar Tuesday, saying she wanted to learn more about the program and its impact on the neighborhood. 

The council resolution would continue an emergency housing contract with the Flamingo Hotel, located at 1761 University Ave., to house up to 10 mentally ill homeless people. Generally, items on the consent calendar are approved unanimously in one vote, without discussion. 

“I checked with Health and Human Services to make sure the delay would cause no disruption to the program’s services,” Maio said. “But this one threw me a curve because I didn’t know what was being proposed.” 

Maio has scheduled a meeting with the Health and Human Services officials so she and neighbors of the hotel can learn more about the state program, formally known as Integrated Services for the Mentally Ill. 

The program, which provides counseling, drug rehabilitation, food and clothing to the chronically homeless, has been housing clients at the hotel since March.  

The council is now considering the contract because of a policy to approve all contracts once they go above $25,000. 

Harvey Tureck, manager of the Mental Health Division, said he is confident the contract will be approved because the program participants who use the emergency housing at the Flamingo Hotel are not troublemakers. “Mental health staff are on site every day and besides these people are mentally disabled and not likely to commit crimes,” he said.  

Tureck added that since the program began, none of the participants has been arrested. 

The recommendation was rescheduled for the council’s Nov. 13 meeting. 

If approved, the temporary hotel housing will continue to provide a much needed element in a unique $3 million program that is attempting to offer meaningful and lasting help to the most severely mentally disabled homeless, who health officials say are the hardest to reach. 

In September 2000, Gov. Gray Davis approved $56 million for similar programs in 26 counties. Berkeley received grant approval for $3 million last November to serve approximately 100 of the city’s most severely mentally ill homeless through November 2003. 

The Mental Health Division, which manages the program, has hired seven social workers who have mostly been working the streets to gain the trust of the mentally ill homeless. Tureck said trust building is essential because the people the program is meant to help are often mistrustful and wary of all government agencies. 

The need for housing this particular homeless population is especially great, because it brings some stability to what is often an otherwise chaotic existence, according to Tureck. He said the 72 clients currently being assisted by the program are now living in residency hotels, long-term care facilities and independent housing. 

Tureck said the Flamingo Hotel provides clients with much needed transitional housing until arrangements can be made for long-term housing, which is the primary goal of the program.  

“So far the results have been good,” Tureck said. “We’ve been able to move some clients into permanent housing around the county and we are currently negotiating to convert a boarding house in central Berkeley into housing for about 20 people.” 

The governor approved the bill based on three pilot programs in Stanislaus and Los Angeles counties and the city of Sacramento. 

The pilot programs cost $10 million to provide the mentally ill homeless with counseling, drug rehabilitation, housing, food and clothing but, according to organizers, it saved $20 million in other services such as emergency medical care and police services. 

Maio represents District 2, where the Flamingo Hotel is located. She said she expects the contract will be approved on Nov. 13. 

“My neighborhood has been supportive of affordable housing, which makes it a very tolerant and unusual place,” she said.