Council Approves The Road Home: A 5 Year Plan to Prevent and Respond to Homelessness

Photo Karin Kim Jensen An unhoused person in front of the Main Library across from City Hall.

Council Approves The Road Home: A 5 Year Plan to Prevent and Respond to Homelessness

At its October 5th meeting, City Council approved The Road Home: A 5 Year Plan to Prevent and Respond to Homelessness in Alameda. The City contracted with Homebase, a nationally recognized homelessness expert, to develop this strategic plan in response to the rising number of unhoused in the City.

Background
In 2019, there were 231 Alamedans experiencing homelessness, up 13% from 2017. Of these, 132 were unsheltered. There was no count in 2020 due to the pandemic. However, the number is likely higher due to COVID-19 and other stressors of the last two years. As Mayor Ashcraft remarked, “Anecdotally, we see encampments where we hadn’t seen them before.”

Still, with fewer than 300 people experiencing homelessness and only half unsheltered on any given day, the City believes that the scale of its problem is solvable.

The Strategic Plan
The strategic plan is a roadmap to prevent and reduce first-time homelessness, shorten the time of remaining homeless and decrease returns to homelessness. The plan has three goals; each contains three implementation strategies:

Goal 1: Secure a housing future for all Alamedans
Strategy 1.1: Assess and use available public and private land for housing.
Strategy 1.2: Protect and expand affordable housing through local policy.
Strategy 1.3: Coordinate housing solutions with the County and neighboring cities.

Goal 2: Increase access to homeless emergency response services
Strategy 2.1: Develop flexible resources for diversion, prevention, and housing retention. (Diversion targets those trying to gain entry into a shelter; prevention targets people at imminent risk of homelessness.)
Strategy 2.2: Provide low-barrier, temporary housing solutions.
Strategy 2.3: Expand outreach and supportive services to unsheltered households.

Goal 3: Mobilize the citywide response to homelessness
Strategy 3.1: Engage the community on the regional crisis of homelessness.
Strategy 3.2: Strengthen the Homeless Response System infrastructure.
Strategy 3.3: Ensure ongoing supportive services funding for assisted households, such as for health care and substance use, to prevent returning to homelessness.
The plan contains 51 action steps and a timeframe for each strategy, responsible parties, stakeholders, and potential funding sources. Specified metrics will measure progress and success.

Public Comment
Eight public speakers and one correspondent shared their comments. While speakers generally supported the plan, most expressed concern that proposed service sites are primarily in the West End and Alameda Point. One speaker noted that only one is east of Webster Street of ten potential properties considered for the program.

Speaker Biggs, Executive Director of the Alameda Point Collaborative, the largest supportive housing community in Alameda County, argued for policies that would limit the ability of those opposed to serving the homeless to stop or delay the implementation of these services. He said, “We don’t have to look far to see that opposition to homeless services can increase the cost of projects by millions of dollars and delay their implementation by years while our unhoused neighbors live in unbearable conditions.”

Council Debate
Council Member Knox-White praised the plan. Still, he added that he would like to ensure a more equitable distribution of service sites across the island while recognizing that the West End has the most available land.

Council Member Herrera-Spencer said that she appreciated the quantity of data about Alameda’s unhoused population presented in the plan. However, she criticized the plan’s goals as too vague and not specific to Alameda. She also expressed concern about duplicating the Housing Authority’s work rather than working with and supporting them.

Community Development Director Lisa Maxwell responded that her department has been exploring specific projects as outlined in the action steps and would come to the Council with those soon. She added that it was not her department’s intention to take the base of the Housing Authority. Instead, they sought to capitalize on rare opportunities for state and County funding that would allow them to create affordable housing and to house the homeless.

Vice Mayor Vella felt the plan’s goals were “spot on,” saying that the plan’s objectives were broad goals by which the Council could direct staff. She understood that staff would return to Council once they determined what was feasible relative to the funds and parcels available. She also supported more equitable distribution of services across the island.

Council Member Daysog said that as specific projects arose, he would support them. Still, he took issue with the plan not requiring clients to participate in related services such as job training as a condition of accessing housing.

Knox White remarked that when past administrations have tried to make people do things to get housing, they found that people aren’t ready to undergo drug and mental health treatment and job training until they have a place to live first.

The Mayor noted that California has hundreds of thousands of homeless in a state that is the fifth-largest economy globally. She added, “But I’ve seen what it looks like when you put people into supportive housing, and it doesn’t take a lot of money to put it up. There are various ways of doing it, but when it comes with wraparound services such as job, mental health, and substance abuse counselors, interview coaching, and counselors for children, then magic starts to occur. You need to give people a chance. At some point, you’ve got to stop talking and take action, and I think we’re close to doing that.”

Final Vote
In the final vote, Ashcraft, Vella, and Knox White voted in favor. Herrera-Spencer voted against, and Daysog abstained so that a 3-1-1 vote approved the plan.

Mayor Ashcraft concluded by inviting residents experiencing housing insecurity to call 211 or visit ac-housingsecure.org for information about how eligible Alameda tenants can still be protected from eviction if they apply for rental assistance from the Alameda County Housing Secure program.