Berkeleyside readers asked a number of questions about homelessness in the city. We try to answer some of them below. Photo: Quinn Dombrowski
Berkeleyside readers asked a number of questions about homelessness in the city. We try to answer some of them below. Photo: Quinn Dombrowski

You asked and we did our best to address some of the basic questions that came up for readers last week about homelessness in Berkeley. Many of the inquiries have and will help shape Berkeleyside coverage, but are too complex to tackle here.

Below, we take a look at the demographics, the resources and the types of services offered in Berkeley, and offer some perspectives on a few of the most frequently asked questions. There’s so much more to say. But we hope this fact sheet on homelessness, along with the rest of the coverage in our Berkeley Homeless Project, can serve as a jumping off point and perhaps a baseline for the broader community to help promote a deeper understanding going forward.


City estimate of homeless population, October 2015: More than 1,200

EveryOne Home’s estimated Berkeley population, January 2015: 834

Percent change in the overall homeless estimate since 2009: 23%

Unsheltered vs. sheltered homeless, January 2015: 568 vs. 266

Percent change in unsheltered homeless from 2009 to 2015: 53%

Racial demographics: About 40% white, 40% black

Racial demographics from the 2015 point-in-time count conducted by EveryOne Home.
Racial demographic estimates from the 2015 point-in-time count conducted in Berkeley by EveryOne Home.

Victims of domestic violence: 252

Chronically homeless individuals: 203

Chronically homeless families: 7 (for a total of 29 people)

Adults reporting HIV/AIDS: 21

Adults reporting a substance use disorder: 65

Drug use on the rise in Berkeley, according to anecdotal evidence: Methamphetamine use, opiate addiction

Adults reporting a serious mental illness: 200

Estimated number of Berkeley Police calls that involve mentally ill individuals on the street: 35%

Estimated rank in demand on BPD resources: #1

A man rests outside the men's shelter in June. Photo: Emilie Raguso
A man rests in a quiet courtyard on a bench outside the men’s shelter in June. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Number of households with at least one adult and one child: 45

Number of children under 18 in those households (total): 80

Number of young adults, 18-24: 13

Transition-age youth (age 18-24): 77

Unsheltered youth: 36

Veterans: 79

Decrease in homeless veterans, 2009 to 2015: 40%

Prior to July 2015, percentage of people who remained homeless after receiving services: 52%

Percent that went on to permanent housing: 38%

A pet watches over his owner's possessions on Shattuck Avenue in June. Photo: Emilie Raguso
A pet watches over his owner’s possessions on Shattuck Avenue in June. Photo: Emilie Raguso


Amount allocated in 2015-16 for services (community agencies): $3.44 million

Amount of total funding used for drop-in centers (before July 2015): 54%

Amount used for rapid rehousing and permanent housing (before July 2015): 9%

Funding for The Hub, January through June 2016: 28% of all city funding

Chronically homeless people housed, or on track for housing, through the Hub since January 2016: 17

People connected with permanent case management: 62

Funding for drop-in centers, January through June 16: 25%

Case management slots in Berkeley tied to permanent housing: 195 (see page 6 for details)

Shelter beds in Berkeley (no time limit) available through The Hub: 135

Transitional housing beds available (18-24 months): 77

Shelter beds and transitional housing in Berkeley available through The Hub through June 2016. Source: City of Berkeley
Shelter beds and transitional housing in Berkeley available through The Hub through June 2016. Source: City of Berkeley
Berkeley offers a wide range of services to help aid people with limited resources. Source: COB
Berkeley offers a wide range of services to help aid people with limited resources. Source: COB

What kind of federal HUD money does Berkeley get? $6 million, of the $29 million designated to Alameda County

Proposed 2016-17 allocation from the city for The Hub: $853,600

Amount added to that Tuesday night by the Berkeley City Council to increase support services at The Hub: $360,000

Funding approved Tuesday night by council for a year-round youth shelter run by YEAH!: $200,000

Funding for a storage locker program to help those on the streets: $185,000 to fund the program going forward, along with a $50,000 one-time allocation to launch it

Number of official city outreach workers devoted to the homeless: 1

Number slated to be hired in the next year: 5

Number of mental health staff who do outreach throughout the city: 30

How far does a shelter plus care housing voucher typically get you? $1,300

How much might the typical unit cost in Berkeley? $1,800

Eve Ahmed (center) describes the city’s approach to homeless outreach. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Eve Ahmed (center) describes the city’s approach to homeless outreach. Photo: Emilie Raguso


Are there drop-in centers in Berkeley? Daytime respite and meals are offered during the week in Berkeley at the Berkeley Drop-In Center, Bonita House, the BOSS Multi-Agency Service Center, the Suitcase Clinic, the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center and Youth Spirit Artworks.

What other agencies provide services in Berkeley? Bay Area Community Services, Berkeley Food & Housing Project, BOSS, City of Berkeley Mental Health, City of Berkeley Aging Division, Dorothy Day House, East Bay AIDS Center, Fred Finch, Homeless Action Center, Lifelong Medical Care, New Bridge Foundation, Options Recovery Services, YEAH! and Rubicon Programs.

How about affordable housing agencies? East Bay organizations focused on affordable housing include Resources for Community Development, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA) and East Bay Housing Organizations.

Where can the homeless go during cold or wet weather? The Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter (BESS) opens at 2345 Channing Way (off Dana Street) during cold and wet weather. Decisions about whether to open are made on a daily basis. The shelter could open as early as 7 p.m. and as late as 11 p.m. Advises the city, “To find out if BESS will be open, contact JC Orton at 510-684-1892 after 12 p.m. The BESS is a first-come, first-served emergency shelter that is open on rainy and cold (less than 40 degrees) nights.”

How about alcohol and drug treatment? Options Recovery Services and the Lifelong Acupuncture Clinic offer assistance with addiction.

Does Berkeley have shower programs? There are two shower programs in Berkeley, at Willard Pool and in the BOSS Multi-Agency Service Center.

How do I find out about shelter in Berkeley?  The Hub is the many entry point for information about shelter beds and housing for the homeless. Walk-ins and phone calls are welcome weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. The Hub is located at 1901 Fairview St. (at Adeline Street). It can be reached by phone at 866-­960-­2132. Those looking for emergency one-night shelter can call the number above weekdays from 7-8 p.m. Weekends, call from 2-3 p.m. or from 7-8 p.m. for a two-night emergency bed. (There are no walk-in hours on the weekends.) Learn more on Berkeleyside.

Are there free meals in Berkeley? There are a number of free meals available around the city. Berkeleyside created the map below. Click on the markers for more information. Yellow markers show morning meals, blue markers show mid-day meals and red markers show late afternoon and weekend meals. Said a homeless man on Shattuck Avenue who identified himself as Buddy: “You’re not gonna starve if you’re gonna be homeless here.… There are all kinds of helpful people here. Berkeley is a town that has a lot of safety nets.”

Detailed information about services, including hours, location and focus, can be found on the city website. The last in-depth report describing funding for homeless services came out in April 2015. The actual allocations may have changed but this nearly 200-page report contains quite a bit of information about the overall funding and structural landscape prior to The Hub.


We asked some of the people we interviewed about other questions that came up from the community. Answers provide a perspective and don’t seek to be exhaustive. If you’re not satisfied, we trust you’ll let us know. We’ll continue reporting on these issues in future coverage.

What’s happening with the Berkeley Way project to build 94 units of supportive housing downtown? Sharon Hawkins Leyden, director of client services at The Hub, said the Berkeley Food & Housing Project has just gotten site control to allow it to begin to pursue possible funding streams that will help make the project a reality. Kristen Lee, manager of Housing & Community Services for the city, said an update on the project will likely appear before council in the fall. “We are all waiting on pins and needles” to find out what happens with a $580 million countywide housing bond, she said, set to come to voters in November. That could help bridge the $22 million gap the city needs to build the project.

Is the county doing anything else? Later this year, Alameda County’s EveryOne Home organization is looking at creating a network of seven hubs to help tackle the problem of homelessness. It would be no surprise if Berkeley is one of those hubs, experts say. It would have to apply like everyone else, however.

How is the city trying to raise more money to tackle homelessness? For one, the Berkeley City Council recently placed a proposed increase on business license taxes on the November ballot, which could send $5 million a year into the General Fund. Council did that with the intention of using some of the money for housing, said Councilman Jesse Arreguín.

BOSS is located inside this door into the Veterans Memorial building. Photo: Emilie Raguso
BOSS is located inside this door into the Veterans Memorial building. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Are there enough supportive housing services to go around? Said housing director Lee: “What we have, over the first five months of the year, is more than 3,000 people trying to access services at The Hub and what we really have resources for is to serve 100 people.” According to the January 2015 EveryOne Home count, there are more than 200 people in this “high needs” category who live on Berkeley’s streets.

Are there typically open shelter beds in Berkeley? Said Leyden: “Everything’s full.” Before The Hub opened in January, 40% of those beds were being used by people not defined as “literally homeless.” Now, people must prove they are homeless to have access to the resource. The beds are still full.

Where are the homeless from? According to Leyden, most of the people on Berkeley streets are local. “They’re not moving here from LA. It’s not like there’s an influx of people from outside; we’re not seeing that at all. Most people have been here for a really long time: 10, 15, 20 years.” She described housing one person recently who had been on the streets locally for 33 years.

She continued: “We’re not having people flock here from everywhere,” Leyden ran the youth shelter at YEAH! for 20 years, and said that’s been true of all her time in Berkeley. “I think that’s the myth. That’s what everybody would like to say: ‘They’re not from here. They’re not our problem. They should go back to where they came from.’ That’s very disappointing.”

Many of the people the city has been working with through The Hub have been in the area for years and are well-known to area service providers, she said.

Lee said people are drawn to Berkeley because it’s a place where they feel safe: “They’re not being harassed as much as they are in other parts of the region.” She continued, “We have a pretty wide array of services that support people with multiple needs.” There’s alcohol and drug treatment, benefits advocacy, and help getting Social Security. Many of those services aren’t offered in other parts of the county. “We just have a huge array of services here in Berkeley.”

Added city spokesman Matthai Chakko: “We just have to implement the policies that are set by council. That’s really a community conversation.”

How do you prove you’re experiencing homeless when you’re trying to get help? There’s often a paper trail, Leyden said. That could be from Berkeley’s prior intake system, HMIS, or it could be from other contacts with hospitals, police, psychiatric facilities or Berkeley Mental Health. “A lot of people that we’re trying to help are very well known. People have known they’ve been around for a really long time,” she said.

Council voted Tuesday night to fund a year-round young adult shelter at YEAH!, located behind a church at University Avenue and McGee. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Council voted Tuesday night to fund a year-round young adult shelter at YEAH!, located behind a church at University Avenue and McGee. Photo: Emilie Raguso

How does homelessness happen? It’s not that Berkeley has become more of a magnet for homeless individuals from other places, Leyden said. It’s primarily that more people in this community have become vulnerable to losing their homes, or fallen victim to bouts of homelessness. More people are living on the edge of poverty, paycheck to paycheck, where a car breakdown can lead to a lost job, which can mean losing one’s home.

In the recent EveryOne Home count, domestic violence appeared to be a growing problem. Several homeless individuals interviewed by Berkeleyside said factors such as DV, eviction and the break-up of relationships put them on the streets. Others said they subscribed to a “traveler” lifestyle and could not handle sleeping indoors.

“I embrace the bohemian right for people to pick up a sleeping bag,” said an older homelesss woman with a tidy upright cart packed neatly with possessions who was sitting alone on a bench on Shattuck Avenue. “Traveler people, folk music. It’s a California thing.”

How do the Berkeley Police deal with homelessness? Why isn’t there more enforcement of existing laws and ordinances? Sgt. Andrew Frankel, BPD spokesman, shared the following response.

We as a department are sensitive to our homeless community members. When our Officers are dispatched to calls for service involving the homeless, they assess each call based on the facts.  Often times they are dispatched to situations where the presence of people on the street does not constitute a crime. When appropriate, persons are contacted and then the determination is made if enforcement efforts are appropriate.

Often times what might be seen as nuisance behavior could be someone with a mental health issue, which is neither illegal, nor addressable in terms of making an arrest.

Homelessness presents a complex set of issues for the City. The Berkeley Police Department does its best to ensure public safety while showing sensitivity with the issues around mental health, drug abuse, and folks living on the street.

What can the general public do to truly help those on the streets? One thing that came through loud and clear in the responses to homelessness shared in our questionnaire: Many readers feel helpless but want to make a difference. Leyden at The Hub shared the following ideas.

  • Volunteer in the community at places like feeding programs and shelters.
  • Give money to organizations to held tackle housing-related problems.
  • Advocate: Talk to city officials, get on planning teams, join the Homeless Task Force.
  • Call politicians: Tell them you can’t tolerate that people in your city are sleeping outside.
  • What about giving money to panhandlers? “You follow your heart and your values.”

Said Buddy, the homeless man from Shattuck Avenue, “These people [in Berkeley] are not like other people. They seem to be used to it. They are indifferent to us. We go about our business looking for our crumbs of bread and we’re ignored.” He didn’t altogether think that was a bad thing, and said he often kept his distance from other people, both the homeless and the housed. But he admitted it would be nice to be acknowledged sometimes. “Nobody wants to talk to me. Treat me like a human being.”

Relevant reports

Want to read up on homelessness in Berkeley? We used these reports in our coverage this week, including much of the data that appears above. Have additional useful resources to share? Please post them in the comments.

Gilman Street underpass: For many, the poster child of Berkeley homeless camps (06.29.16)
Would a homeless mayor in Berkeley make a difference for the homeless? (06.29.16)
Berkeley mayoral hopefuls weigh in on homelessness (06.29.16)
Photos: Living on the streets of Berkeley (06.29.16)
Berkeley seeks to house those most in need at The Hub (06.29.16)
Berkeley homelessness: A timeline from 1982 to 2016 (06.29.16)
Homelessness in Berkeley: An overview (06.29.16)
Berkeleyside will focus on homelessness Wednesday (06.28.19)
Share your questions about homelessness in Berkeley (06.21.16)

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Berkeleyside will publish stories on homelessness throughout the day Wednesday. Check back for continuing coverage. Want to share your thoughts on homelessness to help shape future coverage? Weigh in here.

See full coverage on Berkeleyside of the Berkeley Homeless Project. Read more about homelessness in Berkeley. This story is part of the Bay Area-wide initiative to document homeless issues. This endeavor, The San Francisco Homeless Project, includes 70 media organizations. Connect with the project on Facebook and Twitter.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...