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Berkeley Agency to Offer 3-6 Months Free Housing to Albany Homeless

To relocate the Albany Bulb homeless by an October deadline, Berkeley Food and Housing Project announced they will subsidize free housing for the first three to six months. Some concerns were expressed at the public meeting Thursday night.

One of many "homes" set up by the people living at the Albany Bulb. Photo Credit: Euna Park, July 18, 2013
One of many "homes" set up by the people living at the Albany Bulb. Photo Credit: Euna Park, July 18, 2013
By Euna Park

The Berkeley Food and Housing Project announced Thursday that it will provide financial assistance that will pay 100 percent of the housing costs for relocating the Albany Bulb homeless for the first three to six months. 

During a public meeting attended by more than 40 people Thursday night at the Albany Community Center, members of Solano Community Churchand Berkeley Food and Housing Project described their plan to help find housing for Albany's homeless, particularly those at the Albany Bulb. 

The Albany City Council hired the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to help relocate the estimated 55 homeless people living on the Bulb after the council voted May 6 to instruct police to begin enforcing the no camping law at the Bulb beginning in October. The city is seeking to implement its long-term goal of turning the Bulb over to the East Bay Regional Park District to manage as part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park

The Berkeley Food and Housing Project's effort begins with assessing each individual's situation and identifying any "barriers" – lack of income, social security and identification and/or mental and physical health issues, explained Jo Ferlatte, the group's Multiservice Center Supervisor. 

"These barriers do not keep us from helping them get assistance, but it helps us be aware of the impediments," said Ferlatte. 

Once each situation is assessed, the Bulb inhabitants can receive such services as bus passes, California fee waivers, California ID's, and mental and physical health assistance. 

"We're trying to provide a comprehensive system in order to effectively house people," said Ferlatte.

Berkeley Food and Housing Project will also be hiring an employment specialist to engage people back into the workforce. 

Ferlatte stressed that the financial aid for 100 percent of housing costs is not a lifetime subsidy but short-term assistance to get a person housed, cleaned up, and possibly into the workforce.

The rental application process includes completion of an ESG (Emergency Shelter Grant) application accompanied by a check for the security deposit and six months rent. 

"We've done it before and it works," said Ferlatte. "It's a long, laborious process and it does take time, but it does work."

Some members of the audience, however, were not so convinced. 

"My concern is that the last time this happened, there wasn't a single housing option provided that allowed people to take their pets with them," said Jill Posener from Paw Fund, who has worked with Albany Bulb residents for more than 13 years by providing low cost or free services for their pets, expressed her reluctance. 

"That meant that a lot of the people that had pets ended up by the railroad tracks. I'm really reluctant to see that happen again," she said. 

She also expressed her concerns about what will happen when the assistance runs out in six months. 

A Bulb resident also was skeptical. James Lee Bailey, who has lived at the Albany Bulb for 17 years, spoke about his two-year experience with assisted housing. 

"The more I stayed with it, the more undignified I felt because every time I turned around the man who was paying for my rent was at my door," he said. "I didn't feel like I had any privacy. The situation is that Albany has no low-income housing available." 

Steve Thrush and Andrew Franklin from Solano Community Church emphasized that this housing program is about building relationships and friendships so that the homeless can have someone to count on. 

"We welcome everybody in this community who wants to step in and do more than just throw money at the problem or rush people into a home," said Thrush.

Both Thrush and Franklin urged community members to help by providing clean clothes and showers, driving people to apartment viewings, assisting them financially, and checking up on them periodically. 

Berkeley Food and Housing Project began working with Solano Community Church since July 1, after the City Council authorized a $30,000 contract for three months of outreach and engagement services. 

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