Mayor’s Message on Alameda’s Plans to Help Unhoused Residents

Mayor’s Message on Alameda’s Plans to Help Unhoused Residents

It was a chilly 39 degrees outside when I left my house before 5 a.m. on Feb. 23. I was helping count the number of people living unsheltered in Alameda. I was joined by Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi, AUSD Board President Jennifer Williams, and Alameda Community Development Director Lisa Maxwell. We were among hundreds of volunteers throughout Alameda County participating in the national “point in time” (PIT) count of individuals and families living in tents, vehicles, encampments, and shelters on this winter morning.

The federal government requires cities and counties to conduct a PIT count every other year, but the survey hasn’t taken place since January 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data collected is used to determine federal and state aid allocations to help end homelessness and help inform local response to homelessness.

Our driver was Alameda Point Collaborative Executive Director Doug Biggs, and an unsheltered individual served as our guide, for which they received a stipend. As we drove and walked through our assigned census tract using a cell phone app to collect data, it was painful to imagine people, including children, living in these settings, some getting ready for work or school when they woke up on this frigid morning.

Local survey results are expected this summer, but we already know from service providers that homelessness and housing insecurity increased during the pandemic. Dr. Margot Kushel, an internist who leads UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations, recently told the Alameda County Mayors Conference that the fastest growing segment of the homeless population is people 50 years and older. Contributing factors include lack of extremely low-income housing, and income inequality. Older workers retiring from low-paying, non-union jobs without retirement benefits have little or no savings to cushion them from financial crises like a car repair, medical emergency, or rent increase that can lead to loss of housing.

“50 is the new 75” for individuals experiencing homelessness, according to Dr. Kushel who says her homeless patients in their 50s exhibit the kinds of symptoms she sees when examining patients in their 70s who are housed. Not surprisingly, living on the street accelerates aging. Dr. Kushel’s prescription: “There’s no medicine as powerful as housing.”

That’s why Alameda applied for a $12.5 million grant from state “Homekey” funds to construct Dignity Village, 47 units of transitional supportive housing on the “bottle parcel” adjacent to the College of Alameda sports field (“City Submits Grant Application to Build Development for Unhoused Residents,” Feb. 15). This modular development will provide individuals and couples their own rooms with private bathrooms and on-site “wraparound services” including access to medical, mental health, and substance abuse services, and help finding employment and permanent housing. We’ve already secured $2.35 million of county funding for operating expenses, contingent on receiving the state grant, so keep your fingers crossed!

As we wait to hear from Sacramento, here’s how Alameda is addressing homelessness:

The Day Center at Alameda Point: Village of Love, a non-profit service organization, operates this site where individuals experiencing homelessness can receive help finding housing, access physical and mental healthcare resources, take a hot shower, get clean clothes and food, use a computer or phone, have WiFi access and a mailing address, and join support groups. Operating hours: Monday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, email info@thevillageoflove.com or call 510-827-8811.

Safe Parking: This secure, supervised site adjacent to the Day Center provides overnight parking for up to 25 individuals temporarily living in their vehicle (no RV’s). Vehicles must be registered and operable. Participants have access to restroom facilities and peer counselors. Operating hours: Monday through Sunday, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. To register, call 510-995-8936 or email info@thevillageoflove.com.

Warming Shelter: Every Monday and Thursday evening, and on nights when temperatures drop below 42 degrees, or it’s raining, Christ Church, 1700 Santa Clara Ave. opens its Parish Hall for overnight sleeping accommodation, as well as dinner and breakfast. Hours: 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. This program is administered by Village of Love and funded by the City of Alameda and private donations. If you’d like to donate, visit christchurchalameda.org.

Alameda CARE Team (Community Assessment Response & Engagement): Alameda Fire Department’s Community Paramedics, advised or accompanied by Alameda Family Services mental health clinicians, can assist non-violent individuals who may be experiencing mental health, substance abuse, or homelessness crises. Alameda Police Department dispatchers have received special training to identify these calls and alert the CARE Team. If you witness someone you think might need this assistance, call APD’s non-emergency line: 510-337-8340. If you, or someone you observe, are in danger of immediate harm, call 9-1-1.

We have the tools to help end homelessness, but tools alone aren’t enough: It also takes political will, and community support. The solutions are within our grasp. Let’s pursue them!

Be bold. Be empathetic. Be Alameda Strong!