Survey Boosts Funding for Berkeley Homeless

Friday May 14, 2004

Forty percent of Alameda County’s chronically homeless spend their nights in Berkeley, according to detailed findings released Thursday from a county-wide homeless report. 

The $241,000 survey, conducted last year by the Alameda County-Wide Continuum of Care Council, found what casual observers and trained professionals in Berkeley have recognized anecdotally for years. Compared to their brethren across the rest of the county, Berkeley’s homeless are more likely to be adults, unmarried, male, substance abusers and mentally and physically disabled. They are also more likeley to be chronically homeless— a category the federal government defines as someone who has been without shelter for the past 12 months. 

Survey results will be used to drive the county’s 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, said Megan Schatz, the care council’s survey coordinator.  

Completion and approval of the plan is a prerequisite for receiving funding from the Bush administration, which has refocused its priorities over the next decade from providing services to homeless to finding permanent shelter for the chronically homeless. 

Schatz said that despite the federal mandate on ending chronic homelessness, the Alameda County plan would study ways to serve the entire homeless population.  

“We’re working with behavioral health care services, mental health, the county office on AIDS to really plan for all people of extremely low income,” she said. 

Last November, Alameda County released broad demographic data compiled from the survey which, under federal definitions, counted 821 homeless people in Berkeley among 5,080 in Alameda County. Those numbers marked a decrease from previous estimates based on the 1990 census, which put the figure at between 1,000 and 1,200 homeless in Berkeley and between 9,000 and 12,000 countywide.  

Researchers believe last year’s survey underestimated the actual size of the homeless population because some homeless people do not use services and others are in jails, group homes, or mental institutions that were not part of the study. 

Survey organizers—funded by public and private donations—sent 155 trained community volunteers into 54 of the county’s homeless service centers to interview 1,461 patrons.  

The data released Thursday offers a far more detailed snapshot of Berkeley’s homeless population. 

Ninety-four percent of the city’s homeless population are adults, compared to 71 percent countywide. Of Berkeley’s 821 homeless people, 529 are labeled chronic—two-thirds of the city’s entire homeless population. Across the county, the chronically homeless account for only 36 percent of the population. 

The numbers are based on definitions provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A separate standard also used by researchers counted 835 homeless in Berkeley, 786 of which were chronically homeless. 

The survey found that 80 percent of the homeless in Berkeley are men, compared to just 56 percent in Oakland.  

People with homes who qualify to use homeless services were also included in the survey and contrasted with the homeless population.  

Only 51.8 percent of the housed population who received services in Berkeley actually lived in Berkeley. Among the homeless, 78 percent of the service recipients slept in the city. 

Seventy-five percent of Berkeley’s homeless had reported being arrested compared to 62 percent of recipients with homes. 

In Berkeley, 47 percent of the service users are African American and 42.3 percent are white. However, the chronically homeless included more whites and fewer blacks. 

Seventy-seven percent of homeless service users in Berkeley and 55 percent of housed service users are disabled, compared to 56 percent and 42 percent countywide. Among the more common chronic conditions, 15 percent have been told they have asthma, 8 percent have been told they are diabetic and 11 percent have been told they have tuberculosis.  

Housed users of services in Berkeley were more likely to report learning disabilities (48 percent to 3.5 percent) and mental illness (44 percent to 38 percent). Homeless users were more likely to report disabilities due to alcohol abuse (14.5 percent to 3 percent) and drug abuse (9.2 percent to 3.5 percent). 

Among chronically homeless using services in Berkeley, 54 percent claimed to be alcoholics, 48 percent claimed to be drug addicts, and 40 percent claimed a mental illness. 

In Berkeley, 34 percent of the housed, 60 percent of the homeless, and 65 percent of the chronically homeless service users reported receiving mental health services in the last year. Homeless and chronically homeless service users were nearly twice as likely to receive mental health services as housed service users. 

Countywide, the total income for a homeless person averaged $727. Berkeley is noteworthy in that fully 36 percent of the service users—contrasted with 12 percent across the county—reported no income. Researchers attribute the finding to the fact that 91.5 percent of Berkeley’s homeless service users are single adults. 

Jane Micallef, a community services specialist in the Berkeley Housing Department, said the survey confirmed what the department already suspected, but that it could still be helpful. 

“With this quantity and quality of data, we can do program planning and policy in a way we’ve never done before,” she said. “Our sense is we need a more intensive, deeper type of service that people can access.” 

The city has already reoriented its resources towards helping the chronically homeless and combining social services with housing assistance.  

Despite the city’s budget shortfall, Berkeley government officials have pledged to maintain the level of funding to community agencies that serve the homeless. Of that money, City Manager Phil Kamlarz has shifted $168,000 from other homeless programs to fund an initiative that provides homes and intensive services for the chronically homeless. 

Berkeley would seemingly stand to gain from the Bush Administration’s pledge to end chronic homelessness, but Micallef said that so far, the federal priority hasn’t translated into a lot of money for cities. Still, she said, Berkeley’s disproportionately large percentage of chronically homeless could serve it well when it seeks federal grants. 

The city spends roughly $1.2 million and receives about $700,000 more in federal and state grants to maintain 250 emergency shelter beds and emergency support services like meals, showers and drop-in centers. The city and several community agencies also receive federal money to build new housing. The money has so far funded 93 units of transitional housing and 318 units of permanent supportive housing.