The revitalization of People’s Park will include the construction of permanent, supportive housing for members of the city’s homeless population.
The following provides answers from the campus to key questions.
How supportive housing works
What do we mean by “supportive housing”?
Supportive housing is a combination of permanent housing (not temporary shelter) and on-site services. It provides a reliable place to live, coupled with case management that connects residents to needed services such as job and life-skills training and alcohol and drug abuse programs. Unlike temporary homeless shelters, it generally provides multiple benefits, including a permanent address and greater safety for occupants. Support programs are typically provided by nonprofit and public agencies, with funding from public sources, donors and foundations. Residents of supportive housing, especially those with a history of housing instability or mental illness, are more likely to avoid re-incarceration, experience fewer visits to the emergency room and need fewer inpatient hospital stays, reducing public expenses overall.
Why bring supportive housing to the Telegraph Avenue area?
The Telegraph Avenue area has long had a mix of housing for people with varying means. The Berkeley Inn at Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue had perhaps 75 rooms available at low rents (see https://www.scribd.com/document/15117406/The-Berkeley-Inn). The city of Berkeley’s general plan notes that “residential hotels with single-room occupancy (SROs) provide the only housing many very poor individuals could afford, and the loss of such housing is widely considered to be a major cause of homelessness.” The proposed supportive housing addresses a gap in the existing housing mix in the south campus area.
Who will be eligible for this housing, and what will the criteria for admission be?
Various nonprofit and government (city, county, state and federal) programs fund supportive housing. These funding programs often focus on a particular population. For example, there are programs specifically for military veterans and others for the developmentally disabled. The demographics of the residents in the proposed supportive housing will therefore be linked to the funding source.
What will be the capacity of the facility?
The supportive housing will include between 75 and 125 apartments. A minimum of 75 is required in order to fund the supportive programs on site. Anyone living in the supportive housing will pay 30 percent of their income, from either employment or government social welfare programs, to reside there. The services on site will depend on the demographics and needs of the resident population which, in turn, will depend on the funding sources for the construction and operation of the supportive housing.
Who will pay for the construction and ongoing operations of the supportive housing?
Construction, operations and on-site supportive programs are typically undertaken by nonprofit and public agencies, with funding from public sources, donors and foundations. The selected nonprofit developer will fund the project through various existing public programs (state, county, federal and city). This is normal for this type of housing. The funding will include ongoing social services. The University of California will have no direct cost. The university will provide the land through a ground lease.
Are there successful examples of supportive housing?
There are many supportive housing examples throughout the country, including in the Bay Area. Those below were all designed by award-winning architects.
Prioritizing safety for all
Who will run the facility, and how will we ensure the safety of the residents and their neighbors?
A nonprofit developer with experience in supportive housing will own and operate the proposed facility. Resident families and individuals who experience difficulties will have immediate access to program staff who can intervene in a crisis. Land lease terms between the developer and UC Berkeley will ensure the property is well managed and consistently maintained. Like any rental housing, residents will have rules and conditions as part of their housing lease agreement. UC Berkeley will ensure the quality of the design and construction.
Those living in this new housing will have the opportunity to live in a safe environment and receive support for choices that promote their health and stability. Studies have shown that rather than contributing to neighborhood crime, supportive housing programs have become a neighborhood asset and mobilized a new resident base to combat crime.
What will happen to people living in the park now? Will change there result in new, undesirable impacts elsewhere?
Although there is a perception that people live in the park, no one currently is allowed to camp there overnight. The park is cleared at night. Some individuals come to the park only when free meals are provided. Approximately 40 to 50 people regularly stay in the park throughout the day. Some of them have housing in the community. The total number of homeless people who spend time in the park is small compared to the nearly 800 individuals who are homeless in the city of Berkeley.
In 2017, UC Berkeley hired a social worker who works with individuals in the park, connecting them to resources such as food and housing. This work will continue and closely correlates with efforts by the city of Berkeley to solve the crisis of homelessness. Through coordination with the city, and by devoting considerable resources to alternatives, UC Berkeley expects spillover impacts of change at the park to be minimal.
How do we prevent those who regularly frequent the park from moving to a new part of town and creating a similar set of challenges elsewhere?
Given its particular configuration and character, People’s Park attracts crime and drug activity from throughout the region. To some extent, these park users will always find a next location, but others will be discouraged from these activities or never begin them when the park is altered.
Those who are homeless need safe, supportive and appropriate places to be. The city of Berkeley has several programs to help homeless, and UC Berkeley is collaborating and coordinating with them in this effort. This is an ongoing process and part of the rationale for UC Berkeley’s recent creation of the social worker position at the park.
How will we keep the open space in the park from reverting to its current character?
The park was originally envisioned as an open, welcoming and inclusive place —intentions that are poorly met at the park today. Safety concerns will be addressed, with new neighboring uses adding views into the park and a wider array of individuals enjoying the park.
Campus and city support
Why is the campus responsible for providing housing for the homeless?
The campus will not, itself, be providing housing for the homeless, nor will it be responsible for the facility’s daily operations and services. Rather, we are simply providing land for the facility. Chancellor Christ has made it clear that she believes the campus has a responsibility to help address homelessness and its attendant challenges as part of its public service mission and commitment to advancing the greater good. The chancellor also believes the campus, as part of the community and an integral part of the city, has an obligation to participate in finding solutions to pressing local problems. By collaborating on the social programming at the supportive housing project, UC Berkeley’s experts and students will help ensure the utilization of best practices for the delivery of support and services.
What are the options/proposals/ideas for the involvement of campus academic units in providing supportive and other services to the homeless?
The School of Social Welfare will have some of the required “field placements” for its graduate students at the site, working with the service provider. There are various programs in the School of Public Health that may also have student placements there. If some or all of the people who live there are youth and/or emancipated foster care youth, the Graduate School of Education may also be involved. The same holds for Berkeley Law’s social justice programs. These are but examples, with details to be finalized once we identify the external source of funding for the supportive housing.
What is the city’s role?
UC Berkeley is collaborating in a number of ways to address homelessness in our community. We will be seeking the city’s input as to the resident population of the supportive housing. The city currently has only 30 beds available in supportive housing units for an estimated homeless population of 800 people, creating an acute need for this sort of housing. The city’s support will be instrumental in obtaining funding for this housing.