Public Comment

Housing First Without the Housing, or Parsing the Pathways Project

Carol Denney
Friday March 17, 2017 - 03:43:00 PM

There is some good news. It's good news that Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Councilmember Sophie Hahn's Pathways Project presentation acknowledged that chasing homeless people round and around the town and in and out of jail, Berkeley's approach to homelessness for the last three decades, is not just pointless but expensive.

It's good news that Councilmember Hahn noted aloud that people with nowhere to go were often previously saddled with the descriptor "service resistant" for passing on the opportunity to pack up everything they own to spend one and only one fitful night in loud, crowded circumstances without the comfort of pets and family before being booted back into the cold at the break of dawn. 

But it's ridiculous, not to mention hypocritical, for a town to embrace the principles of "Housing First" as a policy and then firmly shut the door on providing housing, especially in a town that not only is dense with housing, but just legitimized short-term AirB&B-style rentals that ravage rental housing stock by anyone's measure in numbers approximately equal to the number of people sleeping in the cold. 

Berkeley, as a college town, is not only dense with housing, it is dense with housing that turns over in very predictable, profitable waves. It should interest people that the Pathways Project relies intensely on not disturbing this mechanism. Nor does it utilize the inordinate amount of empty spaces which have sat on both the commercial and residential markets sometimes for years without even the application of the vacancy fee included in Berkeley's general plan. 

The recognition in the Pathways Project plan that people need more than one fitful night in a shelter before being tossed back into the streets is laudable, but the one to four-month stays in either the initial shelter or the "village" (for a specially invited and specially selected group) begs the obvious question - what happens to people after that? 

I know, I know, I sound like a whiner. But I can't help but notice there's no campground in this plan. There's no effort to vacate the use of "camping" laws to ticket homeless and poor people or people who sleep in their vehicles; quite the opposite; the Pathways Project assures us that those laws will most assuredly be used after "robust" outreach efforts, the definition of which no reporter at the press conference was interested in requesting. 

Mayor Arreguin insisted that due to the emergency nature of the housing crisis this proposal will not be making the rounds of relevant commissions, but will come before the council in early April in this vague, budget and location-free form, which will make unanimous support easy to find. It will be up to other voices in the community to refuse to allow housing, the element that makes the real difference in changing homelessness nationwide, to be so nonchalantly sidestepped.