While watching the special on Homelessness in the Bay Area presented by KTVU on Sept. 17, I was dismayed by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin’s portrayal of the actions taken by the City of Albany in closing the encampments that were located on the Albany Bulb. Allow me to take this opportunity to clarify exactly what we did and how we became a positive model for such situations in the future.
There were 50 individuals living on the Bulb when the City began implementing the Albany waterfront transition plan, including enforcement of the City’s no camping ordinance at the public park. Berkeley Food and Housing was hired by the City of Albany to provide housing resources and other wrap-around services including rent subsidies for those transitioning from the Bulb. Thirty-seven people from the Bulb engaged in outreach services and, of those, 23 were successfully housed through the work of the City of Albany in coordination with Berkeley Food and Housing Project, in an effort known as the “Albany Project Hope” program. The City also master-leased housing units to provide secure housing to newly-housed people who had been living at the Bulb. We are still providing services for people in need of assistance, and many are now living independently.
Albany Project Hope became a community endeavor with a local nonprofit — the Albany Community Foundation — providing funds for the purchase of household goods, cellphones, transportation back to families, utility payments and other necessities. Albany residents donated furnishings for the houses and often rides to their new homes.
During the transition period, the City of Albany in partnership with Operation Dignity provided showers, toilets and temporary housing adjacent to the Bulb. We stored the personal belongings of people until they had a secure place to relocate.
In the years since people were transitioned into housing from encampments on the Bulb, the City of Albany has continued our partnership with Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP). We now have a case manager and a housing specialist who are tasked with street outreach for those living unsheltered, case management, housing and housing retention through regular house visits with people who have already been housed. BFHP has developed a service-intensive model that is a best practice. Using Housing First and Harm Reduction principles in combination with intensive and responsive case management services, BFHP has been able to house and retain housing for people who had been chronically homeless for years. Case management tailored to each client’s need, daily crisis interventions and community linkages are some of the ways BFHP has used to stably house individuals with the City’s support.
Albany has a community shower program at the Albany Aquatic Center which, in addition to hygiene, also provides participants with soap, toothbrushes, underwear and socks, etc. This program is sponsored by St. Alban’s Episcopal Church with the shower fee paid by the Albany Community Foundation. Many of the weekly volunteers are members of the Diverse Housing Working Group, a local advocacy group for those experiencing homelessness in our community.
Earlier this month, the City opened our new Community Resource Center. This program offers support and trustworthy referrals for food, shelter, mental health, immigration services, rent and utility payment assistance and other services.
The City is also collaborating/participating in the North County Hub that will be serving homeless adults and youth in Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville.
I have served on the Alameda County EveryOne Home Leadership Board for several years, working on the establishment of the Coordinated Entry System connecting people to available resources. The mission of EveryOne Home is to end chronic homelessness and reduce the housing crisis in Alameda County.
I also have a seat on your North County Task Force on Homelessness and hope to continue working with fellow elected officials on this regional issue.
It is also critical to reduce the risk of people becoming homelessness. To that end, the Albany City Council has issued an RFP for an organization to assist City officials in creating an ordinance for a rent review program; to provide tenant-landlord counseling services; and to administer a rent review program. We plan to have this program in operation in the coming months.
As all of the participants stated on the telecast, homelessness is not an issue to be solved by any individual city regardless of size. It is only by working together that we will begin to see results. Although we are a small city, Albany has provided housing and services for our unsheltered residents and will continue to do so. We look forward to working collaboratively with the other cities in Alameda County seeking the best solutions for the most vulnerable among us.