The Pathways Project could establish two new shelters and a new intensive encampment outreach program. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Update, Friday, June 23, 10:30 a.m. In an updated report, city staff recommend prioritizing a hybrid of the two low-barrier shelters, along with rental subsidies and the reunion program. The single new facility would have 80 beds for Bridge Living Community residents and 20 for the STAIR Center.

Original story: It could cost the city more than $4 million a year to carry out the ambitious homelessness proposal put forth by Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilwoman Sophie Hahn earlier this year, according to a new analysis by city staff. The new costs would be on top of the $3 million Berkeley currently spends on existing shelters and services.

The staff report breaks down the cost of each piece of the elaborate Pathways Project, a set of new shelters and programs for Berkeley’s growing homeless population, and offers recommendations on which elements to prioritize. The item is on the June 27 City Council agenda.

In April, the council voted unanimously to move ahead with the Pathways proposal. The centerpieces of the plan are two new “low-barrier” shelters: the Center for Stability, Navigation, and Respite (STAIR) and the Bridge Living Community. Modeled off San Francisco’s Navigation Centers, they would allow pets and onsite storage, removing those and other barriers that commonly keep people away from shelters. One of the facilities would be designed to provide quick respite for people living on the streets, and the other would be a longer-term shelter geared toward those in the process of securing permanent housing.

The new staff report from the city’s Housing and Community Services Department cautions that any piece of the Pathways project must be coupled with investments in “exits to housing” for those using the new resources, so they do not end up back on the streets or continue to use the limited services.

In their initial Pathways Project proposal, Arreguín and Hahn suggested the city begin the effort by building the shorter-term STAIR Center, to provide more emergency relief. They envisioned the facility as the first step in an eventual transition to the longer-term shelter and to housing.  The new staff report says the first priority should instead be the longer-term shelter, the Bridge Living Community, because a stay there is more likely to result in permanent housing, and it could serve homeless individuals already identified by the city as high priorities for housing assistance. There would be services provided onsite, along with activity and job training opportunities through local partnerships. A new program established concurrently would help the residents reunite with friends or family who could offer them a permanent place to live when possible.

The staff members calculated that housing 100-120 people at the Bridge Living Community for four to six months each would cost $2.3 million in its first year and $2.1 yearly after that. The reunion program is projected to cost $90,000 annually.

The old Premier Cru building is one of two potential locations for a new homeless shelter. Photo: Premier Cru

The short-term STAIR Center would house people formerly living in encampments or those less connected to city services. After a one-to-two month stay, some STAIR residents would be offered spots at the Bridge Living Community.

According to the staff report, it would cost around $1.8 million to fund the first year of a 75-bed STAIR Center, and $1.6 million annually from then on. The city would beef up outreach at encampments, with a new program where staff would work intensively with residents for several weeks and ultimately direct them to the new shelter. Arreguín has previously said the city would shut down encampments at the end of these efforts, and will not allow a permanent tent city. The new outreach program, led by a social worker, could cost $360,000 per year, the report says.

Though space can be as hard to come by as funds, the city has picked out two possible locations for the STAIR Center. The shelter could occupy the shuttered Premier Cru building complex on University Avenue near Tenth Street, which the city recently bought — or it could take the shape of a tent-cabin village on Second Street between Virginia and Cedar streets.

Construction costs for the two potential shelters are not included in the staff estimates. The report says the salary of a full-time program administrator who would oversee the Pathways effort, or the equivalent staffing costs, would be $190,000. All told, it could cost $4.8 million to fund the first year of all the new programs under the Pathways Project. From then on, the report says, it would cost $4.3 million each year.

Homeless camp at Gilman Feb. 1 2017. Photo by Nancy Rubin
The homeless camp at Gilman on Feb. 1, 2017. Photo by Nancy Rubin

Preliminary findings from the new county-wide homelessness count conducted in January reveal Berkeley’s homeless population has grown by about 16% since the last count in 2015. The new count found 664 unsheltered homeless people living in Berkeley, and 972 total.

Currently, the city spends $17.7 million in federal, state and local funds on its array of homelessness programs and services, including related police and medical costs, and other direct and indirect costs. That works out to about $18,000 per homeless resident and includes around $3 million given to the community agencies that run shelters.

Except for some county funds that could be used to fund Pathways programs, “The majority of this will require ongoing General Fund obligations, as there are few federal or county opportunities to fund these programs,” the staff report says.

Arreguín and Hahn have acknowledged that the Pathways Project is ambitious in scope and cost. They say a growing crisis situation demands a major response. Arreguín ran for mayor on the promise to “take on homelessness” through innovative efforts. They say investments in the new programs could curb an expensive and ineffective cycle of sending homeless people through the criminal justice and medical systems.

Hahn has proposed that the council include $500,000 for Pathways capital costs in the 2018-19 budget, as well as $1.5 million in 2018 and $3 million in 2019 for programs and services. It remains to be seen how much the city will allocate to the project, but the council is expected to vote on its budget on June 27. Arreguín has also said the council might revisit the budget in the fall.

Hahn has said she has already found private donors willing to contribute significantly to the Pathways programs.

The new staff report also puts forth an alternative idea: “reforming the existing shelter system to achieve similar housing-focused goals and make shelters operate more like Navigation Centers.” If existing shelter beds were reserved for the high-needs individuals already working with case managers to get set up with permanent housing, other housing subsidy funds could be dedicated to new or lower-needs residents, the report says.

In addition to the new shelter and programs, the Pathways proposal includes the eventual development of a longer-term regional effort called the “1000 Person Plan.”

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...