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Berkeley Homeless Agency Contract Extended for a Year

After hearing conflicting views, the Albany City Council on Tuesday night unanimously agreed to a one-year extension of the contract with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to offer assistance to the homeless at Albany Bulb and elsewhere.

The Albany City Council meeting on Jan. 21, 2014. Photo is a screen grab from the KALB live broadcast of the meeting.
The Albany City Council meeting on Jan. 21, 2014. Photo is a screen grab from the KALB live broadcast of the meeting.
After hearing sharply differing views in public comments, the Albany City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved a one-year extension of a contract with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to provide help for Albany Bulb dwellers and other homeless people.

After deciding last May to clear the Bulb of its longstanding illegal encampments, the city first contracted with the Berkeley nonprofit for three months beginning in July for $30,000 to offer assistance to Bulb residents in obtaining services and alternative housing. The contract was renewed for three more months in September.

The one-year extension, at a cost of $76,000, drew opposition Tuesday night from Bulb resident Amber Whitson, two representatives of the Berkeley Free Clinic and some others who have worked with those living at the Bulb.

The critics said Bulb residents don't trust the Berkeley Food and Housing Project and that its track record after more than six months – of successfully housing only five people of the 60 people it has made contact with – has been poor. They said a recently formed ad hoc group has had far more success in a short period of time in winning trust at the Bulb and securing income for some Bulb residents to make them eligible for housing assistance.

Supporters of the extension, including representatives of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, said establishing trust with the homeless takes a long time and that the organization has made good progress considering the challenges in finding housing, such as accommodating residents with large dogs.

Some speakers suggested also that Bulb residents have intentionally withheld cooperation with the agency in hopes of strengthening their efforts to remain on the Bulb.

Andrew Franklin of the Solano Community Church, which has been asked to act as kind of bridge between the Bulb population and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, said he felt "like I'm sitting in the middle of this" and added that some of the characterizations of the agency's relationship with Bulb residents were exaggerated.

At the same time, he acknowledged the performance of the church and the agency have been "not perfect."

"But at the end of the day, they have been out there and built a lot of relationships," he said.

Councilman Peter Maass said before the vote, "I think when we started this process we had an idea, but probably not as great an idea as we have now about how long it was going to take and how complicated the process is in finding homes for people. I would say there may be ad hoc organizations that have formed coalitions, etc., that have had some success, but whether they would have had that same success without the groundwork that Berkeley Food and Housing has done is a question in my mind."

Zoning code amendments for transitional and supportive housing, emergency shelters

A related measure that also won unanimous council approval Tuesday night will make it easier to establish transitional and supportive housing as well as emergency shelters. The changes were proposed to bring city law into compliance with state requirements, according to the staff report.

The city currently requires that an emergency shelter be issued a conditional use permit from the Planning & Zoning Commission, a process that also entails notification of nearby owners and occupants.

A state law that became effective Jan. 1, 2008 (SB2) eliminated this step and requires city's to designate at least one zone where such shelters can be placed "by right." So the council agreed with the staff recommendation to allow such shelters in the Commercial Mixed Use and San Pablo Commercial zone.

The council also agreed to allow transitional and supportive housing by right in residential and mixed-use zoning districts.

Some speakers questioned why the staff didn't follow the recommendation of the Planning & Zoning Commission to allow emergency shelters in the Solano Avenue commercial zone too. 

Albany Community Development Director Jeff Bond said the Solano Avenue possibility emerged in the planning commission discussion and that outreach to merchants and residents who would be affected had not been carried out yet. The staff recommended that the council consider adding Solano at a later date.

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Gary Matalucci January 22, 2014 at 09:01 AM
I hear a great big flushing sound. That money could've really helped young single mothers who are having a difficult time staying afloat instead of wasting it on those whose only goal in life is to scam the system and stay high on meth. This is the problem of our whole country: wasted resources. This MUST change.
Lisa Park January 22, 2014 at 09:09 AM
Gary Matalucci, you are so right. How does Albany have $76K to spend on Bulb residents? Aren't there other, at least as deserving if not more deserving residents in Albany who could use that money to greater benefit?
Kei January 22, 2014 at 09:49 AM
'Deserving'-- boy, that's always such a delicate calculation. I'm not denying that it must be one of the factors considered, but certainly there are situations that we have all been in, in which we have deserved nothing, yet have received goodness, mercy, and grace. Now, the extent to which that should be a factor in civil decisions-- that's not easy to define.
Netizen 2 January 22, 2014 at 10:17 AM
What a horrible misuse of funds. Clearly the campers don't want help (if the slightest reasonable terms are attached, such as getting out of our park).
lindy January 22, 2014 at 10:37 AM
I don't believe this is a good use of funds from the City.
concerned educator January 22, 2014 at 06:53 PM
I agree what a waste! let the ad hoc group accomplish this and send the message to not stall
Brian Parker January 23, 2014 at 02:35 PM
The irony of all of this is the Bulb squatters and their allies stood in opposition to the continuation of the contract. The issue is that the social work being funded by the City is part of a comprehensive program including the emergency shelter that probably will save the City more in legal fees than it is costing. You have lawsuits saying the city is not doing enough for the squatters and the squatters attacking what the City is doing. Once the City starts enforcing the anti-camping ordinance the emergency shelter will probably fill up and the shelter residents will be more amenable to help in finding a better set of accommodations. Hopefully at that point the relationships that Berkeley Food and Housing has forged will payoff.
doris January 23, 2014 at 02:49 PM
"Once the City starts enforcing the anti-camping ordinance...." oh boy, hope springs eternal. We'll all be in come other place or dead by then.
Netizen 2 January 23, 2014 at 03:06 PM
I share everyone's frustration at the lack of progress, but keep in mind its not as simple sending in the police to clear it out. How many officers could Albany send out there at one time, and how ugly would it get if a flash mob of Berkeley anarchists shows up?
Brian Parker January 23, 2014 at 05:42 PM
"Concerned educator" - the Ad hoc group that claimed great progress at the City Council meeting in signing 5 Bulb residents up for benefits were referring to signing folks up for General Assistance ($212 cash monthly to a single adult). Not going to solve the problem of folks not having housing. The City and the Food and Housing Project are bringing much more to the table in resources. But Berkeley Food and Housing is dealing with the real world, they can't get help to people who are not interested in getting into permanent housing. Is that BFHP's fault that the folks on the Bulb aren't taking getting into housing seriously (for whatever reason)?The funded contract extension reduces the amount of outreach to I believe match more closely the low level of interest in getting help. All through this process the City is building a record of being kind and generous to the folks at the Bulb. Understand its a bit of a fools errand but most would think appropriate while still being frustrated with the overall lack of action by the City to enforce the city ordinance. I share your frustration.
Gary Matalucci January 27, 2014 at 08:58 AM
Netizen 2, at this very late date, I'm willing to take that chance. Something has to give and everyday the trespassers grow stronger. They are hell-bent in destroying our civilized way of life, and I for one find that unacceptable. Are we going to give in to these homegrown criminals, my vote is NO!
Mr Eous January 27, 2014 at 09:54 AM
I agree. Step 1 is clear the Bulb and erect a fence across the neck while the illegal campsites are cleaned up. The squatters know exactly what they are doing: the longer everyone discusses all the various options, the longer they get to stay put and they know it.
doris January 27, 2014 at 11:35 AM
Too late, the city of Albany has given in to them. They are more committed to them than to their tax paying residents. We've been sold out.

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