Council to hear about homeless count

Council to hear about homeless count

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s City Council will get a report Thursday on homelessness on the Island and on next steps that should be taken to combat it.

The report follows a homeless count conducted last September that was spearheaded by the city’s Social Service Human Relations Board. The board decided to conduct the count after a resident voiced concern that the number of homeless people frequenting Alameda’s West End appeared to be on the rise.

Volunteers who conducted the three-hour count across the entire Island identified 17 homeless people on its streets, eight of whom they were able to interview. Of the eight, five said they were chronically homeless – meaning they had been homeless for more than a year or several times over the course of three years – and four said their last permanent address was in Alameda. Three identified themselves as veterans.

The Alameda count includes only “unsheltered homeless” – people who sleep on the streets and in places not meant for human habitation. It didn’t tally people who are staying in shelters or transitional housing or those who lack a permanent, fixed address and are “couch surfing” with friend or relatives.

Separately, an official with the Alameda Unified School District wrote in 2013 that the district was at that time serving 300 homeless children.

For next steps, the social services board will look at gaps in the Island’s services for homeless people and will work with the Alameda Police Department to develop protocols for providing resources to homeless people living in encampments, according to a presentation to be offered to the council on Thursday. Board members are also planning to conduct a follow-up survey.

Police told the board in April 2014 that they meet monthly with representatives from other police departments to compare notes on homeless individuals and to discuss housing and other services to assist them, minutes for the board’s April 24, 2014 meeting show. Alameda police, who estimated that the Island is home to about a dozen chronically homeless people, engage in crisis intervention training, collaborate with service agencies and also carry information about services to distribute to homeless people they encounter, the minutes show.

Managers for the city’s library system and Mastick Senior Center said that homeless people stop in to clean up and for lunch.

In addition to surveying homeless people in September, volunteers handed out backpacks with food, toiletries, bus passes and information about services.

A 2013 count of homeless people across Alameda County found 4,264 people who were either unsheltered and living on the streets or sheltered temporarily, about the same number survey-takers found in 2011. That’s down from 5,081 in 2003. New data is due out this summer.

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. Thursday in council chambers on the third floor of City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue. The meeting will be broadcast live on Comcast cable channel 15, AT&T cable channel 99 and on the city’s website.


Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Tue, Jun 9, 2015

If the School District estimates that it is serving 300 homeless children and the County says that there are 4,264 homeless in the County, why does the City survey only identify 17 people as homeless?

Submitted by C. (not verified) on Tue, Jun 9, 2015

I'm curious about the homeless population that frequents the shopping center on Blanding - particularly the Peet's inside Nob Hill after dark. So many times we have seen people with personal belongings stacked up beside them dozing in the chairs at that Nob Hill Peet's. Are they waiting for shelter beds to open up or are they without any shelter whatsoever? Are they living in their car? We have seen men, women and once saw a family with young children that appeared to be homeless. In the case of the family, we believe they were living out of their car. They were microwaving cheap TV dinners in the Peet's microwave and sharing them and the children were sharing a Cup of Noodles. They stayed there for a few hours and then retreated to a car in the lot that seemed piled with personal belongings. They all looked exhausted. I wonder if some outreach at the Peet's late at night would help some people. There is an older lady we see there a lot who wears many layers of clothing and totes luggage. There also used to be an elderly lady who hung around South Shore early in the morning who had a bedroll. A homeless headcount of 17 people seems low to me given the number of people I see that I presume are homeless. It may be, however, that they carry their belongings with them because they use shelters at night and have no place to store their worldly goods. Would establishing secure lockers or storage units for the homeless remove their burden of having to cart their belongings around? Is there a place other than public restrooms where they can clean up? I do not think the homeless are only confined to the West End. I think if you look hard enough in the right places you will see there are people in need of help on the East End too - particularly around the Fruitvale bridge. I see people from the homeless encampment underneath the Fruitvale bridge (on the Oakland side) walk over the bridge into Alameda - so there is spill over into Alameda from that homeless population too. I am glad our police are learning about what services are available. Also there was a woman asking for money/food outside Jack in the Box the other day who said she was homeless and there have been people with signs asking for money outside of the Harbor Bay Landing shopping center a few times in the recent past. I refer them to the Alameda Food Bank on Thau Way figuring that is at least a point of entry into Alameda's social service system. All of this speaks to larger interconnected problems in our society such as income inequality, rising housing costs in the Bay Area, inadequate treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, lack of employment, jobs which do not pay a living wage in this high cost area etc... This is a regional problem and we need to coordinate with our surrounding cities.

Submitted by C. (not verified) on Tue, Jun 9, 2015

Agreed, Steve. Why only 17 people? Seems inaccurate. Why wouldn't they count people couch surfing and living in shelters and in cars as homeless too? I mean they are one step away from sleeping on the sidewalk and do not have a permanent address.

Submitted by Doug Biggs (not verified) on Tue, Jun 9, 2015

The School District is counting people who are in transitional housing such as some of the housing out at Alameda Point, in shelters, and in some cases, living in hotels, doubling up and couch surfing. Our count last year only looked at people who were literally homeless per the HUD definition, eg living in a place not fit for human habitation. The county number includes the whole county, not just Alameda. That count is taken at shelters, food pantries, meal programs and through street outreach. Our count last year was a point in time count and could fluctuate, given a number of factors. For that reason, we are going to repeat the count in late July or August to see if we can begin identifying trends.

Submitted by sam (not verified) on Tue, Jun 9, 2015

they can't count people couch surfing because there is no way to know who or where they are. the only way to be sure someone is homeless is to walk up and ask them.

Submitted by Slum Jack (not verified) on Tue, Jun 9, 2015

To be realistically accurate, these kinds of "counts" tend to be distinctly minimal for the following reasons. And the all too common careful, euphemistic language meant to sound rather more constructive than it is.

1. Quite a number of people who are homeless "pass" by not looking or acting any differently than anyone else. Usually, there's no benefit at all in identifying one's status like that.

2. Properties have long been renting "offices" to people who then reside there, including doing so on a wink-wink tacitly agreed basis.

3. It's telling that this story specifies "social service agencies" and "police" as the two active agents responsible for addressing this "problem"... er, "issue". Police? Why? Is being homeless illegal?

4. As usual, we see references to the ubiquitous, vague "services" allegedly offered, as though that was some actual "solution". WHICH "services" specifically? Typically this turns out to be... very little, indeed. And virtually nothing in terms of obtaining housing. Usually it amounts to a chain (or veritable circle) of "agencies" that "refer" people to so-called (again, ambiguous) "resources".... with which to essentially *remain homeless, but perhaps with a few minor boons, such as some extra food, possibly limited access to showers, etc. Or sends people through that circle to one after another just referring to next agencies doing the same.

Of course, obviously, those dubious agencies and "services" personnel get jobs and pay their rent/mortgages in that way. They also need ongoing clients in order to justify their budgets and personal income. None have any plans to phase out their own existence by ever truly succeeding at stated missions to "end homelessness".

Alameda is pretty well known among homeless people as being especially hostile, with police actually outright telling encountered persons that they ought to just get outa' town and go to Oakland. That's the real "solution" being practiced.

Submitted by Chris Roomer (not verified) on Tue, Jun 9, 2015

What about the permanent homeless settlement just outside the tubes (admittedly they're in Oakland, but quite a few of them make the trek over to In-N-Out to use the restrooms). Some of them think it's pretty funny to play chicken with the cars approaching the tube by crossing the street at the last minute.

Submitted by BizzyLi_ (not verified) on Tue, Jun 9, 2015

Slum, Pts 3 on don't relate to your lead statement. You site no backup. I let "my fingers do the walking" . . . Look, not a single City agency lists "to end homelessness" (your quotes), as a part of its mission or purpose. If you go to sites, some are trying to help with the problem, but that's not saying they expect to end the problem.
Social Service Human Relations Bd Purpose

To assess and report to the City Council the social service needs of the people of Alameda and to encourage the formation of private social welfare organizations to serve unmet needs. The SSHRB was established in the City Charter.
The Alameda Food Bank Mission

The Food Bank’s mission is to provide nutritious food to the low-income residents of the City of Alameda on a non-discriminating basis. The Alameda Food Bank is a private, non-affiliated, non-profit, tax-exempt agency.
The Midway Shelter and Network Mission

The mission of the Alameda Homeless Network is to advocate for homeless women and their children, assuring their right to live free of domestic violence in a safe and supportive environment.The Network strives to secure adequate funding to keep the Midway Shelter operating 24 hours a day while raising the consciousness of our community.

The City of Alameda Free Library Mission Statement

The Alameda Free Library is an inviting and comfortable place where people of all ages develop and enjoy a love of learning and reading, connect to the online world, and find the information they need for daily living.

Alameda Police Department, Value Statement

The Alameda Police Department is a team of dedicated men and women committed to providing: professional, proactive, and personable police services; collaborative problem-solving with other governmental and community organizations; an open relationship with citizens focused on improving their quality of life.

Alameda Point Collaborative About Statement

Alameda Point Collaborative is a supportive housing community that uses all its resources to help families and individuals break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. We are the largest supportive housing provider for homeless families in Alameda County, and our wide range of services give residents the tools they need for long-term success.

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Wed, Jun 10, 2015

There is no shelter for homeless single men in Alameda. This includes veterans. The nearest location is in Oakland. With a VA facility opening in Alameda, this issue may become more pressing.

There are people living in all sorts of conditions in Alameda. There are people living in garages and backyard sheds. The homeless are finding solutions to homelessness; however, that may have unpleasant consequences for others.

I am looking to our leaders to provide some leadership on this issue.

Submitted by Doug Biggs (not verified) on Wed, Jun 10, 2015

Shelters are not a response to homelessness, they are a temporary stop that tends to increase trauma and anxiety, thus many homeless avoid them at all cost. At the regional and national level shelters are being phased out in favor of more effective and permanent solutions such as rapid rehousing. Our local leaders are providing leadership by actually helping to fund some rapid rehousing services in Alameda.

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Wed, Jun 10, 2015

" Our local leaders are providing leadership by actually helping to fund some rapid rehousing services in Alameda."

Thank you for noting this. Who at City Hall is responsible for funding the rapid rehousing program? Is it you? Please advise. On another local website, it was noted that "a homeless encampment at the Jean Sweeny Beltline parcel was cleared out."

Is this part of the rehousing effort or is it a separate initiative? Are the homeless who were cleared out rehoused?

Re-housing is mentioned on the Alameda County Redevelopment website:

It is mentioned as part of a larger effort that includes shelters, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing.

Submitted by Patrick (not verified) on Thu, Jun 11, 2015

I find the 17 count hard to believe also. I live on the West end and frequently see a handful of homeless guys hanging out near the Lucky's.