County Board Declares Homelessness Emergency

Courtesy Alameda County Board of Supervisors
Courtesy Alameda County Board of Supervisors

County Board Declares Homelessness Emergency

At its Sept. 19 meeting, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to authorize a countywide homelessness state of emergency.

The resolution directs the county’s Office of Homeless Care and Coordination (OHCC) to develop an emergency response to homelessness and report back to the board with recommendations within 60 days. The resolution was authored by Alameda County Board President Nate Miley. In a letter to his fellow board members, Miley wrote that homelessness has, among other things, contributed to increasing death rates in Alameda County.

“According to the Alameda County 2021 Homeless Mortality Report, the number of annual homeless deaths grew considerably larger between 2018 and 2020 and remained at a high level in 2021,” wrote Miley. “Between 2018 and 2021, 1,157 Alameda County residents died while experiencing homelessness.”

Erin Armstrong, Miley’s senior policy advisor, gave a presentation to the board during the meeting. Armstrong said Alameda County is vulnerable to increased homelessness due to the high costs of housing in the county.

“The leading indicator associated with homelessness is the cost of housing,” said Armstrong. “As the cost of housing goes up, homelessness increases.”

The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area is well over $3,000 per month, more than 2.5 times the national average of $1,200. Armstrong said homelessness causes many issues for unhoused people. According to the 2022 Alameda County Point-in-Time Count, people experiencing homelessness suffer from psychiatric or emotional conditions, PTSD, chronic health conditions, drug and alcohol abuse, and more.

Armstong said declaring a state of emergency will better help the county tackle the issue of homelessness by unlocking additional tools to help expedite a sufficient response to the crisis.

“These additional tools could include, but are not limited to, accelerated hiring, efficient and effective use of funds, expedited procurement, the streamlining and creation of housing; and the ability to request resources from the state and federal government,” said Armstrong.

The board acknowledged installing programs would be difficult to undertake because each incorporated city has its own homelessness and housing initiatives.

“Nobody wants to oppose the measure, but we need to be specific about what we can do, as well as what we want to do,” said Supervisor Keith Carson. “The mayors of the cities have been asking this question specifically, in addition to the residents. They’re just a little nervous about what does that mean, and what it was required from them as partners in this.”

City of Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín sent Carson a text message regarding this issue that Carson read at the meeting.

“I like to emphasize the importance of county working with cities on the emergency plan as we have existing programs and need to coordinate service delivery,” wrote Arreguín. “If that is something you would be open to including in your item, it builds on the good work and collaboration we’ve been engaged in for more than two years.”

The board did not have a definitive plan on how to work with cities to help mitigate the homelessness problem, so the Office of Homeless Care and Coordination will do research over the next 60 days to come up with a plan.

The City of Alameda has several initiatives to combat homelessness in the city. From food assistance programs, warming centers during the winter and emergency health services. The city is also building or has built housing developments for unhoused individuals.

Earlier this year, Dignity Village, a two-story, 47-unit interim supportive housing development serving up to 61 individuals experiencing homelessness or chronic homelessness was opened at 2350 Fifth St.

Alameda Point Collaborative is also in the process of building the Alameda Wellness Campus that will include a 100-unit permanent supportive housing complex, health care center and a resource center that will provide homelessness prevention services, case management, and housing placement assistance.

According to the Alameda County 2022 Homeless Point-In-Time count, 9,747 people in Alameda County are experiencing homelessness. That is a 41% increase since 2017.