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 likely 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.
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.
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.
Matthew Artz, Survey Boosts Funding for Berkeley Homeless, Berkeley Daily Planet (May 14, 2004), available at http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2004-05-14/article/18854.