Just a small fraction of Alameda County's homeless live in the Tri-Valley but local communities face unique challenges serving their needs, according to experts and advocates that spoke during a panel on homelessness at Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton last week.
Moderated by Livermore City Councilwoman Patricia Munro, the Dec. 5 panel consisted of residents and staff from the cities of Livermore and Pleasanton, and local nonprofit CityServe of the Tri-Valley. The congregation organized the public event to help address the Tri-Valley's critical homelessness problem.
The most recent count of Alameda County's unhoused population conducted in January showed "very surprising results," Livermore's human services program manager Claudia Young told the several dozen audience members in attendance that evening.
Overall, the county has experienced a 43% increase in homelessness from the last count in 2017, with more than 8,000 people counted in Oakland and other cities on that side of the East Bay like Hayward. An estimated 1,710 homeless individuals live in transitional housing or an emergency shelter and the rest are living in their cars or on the streets.
"It doesn't give us a full picture but it gives us a glimpse" at the current local situation and how to best approach the problem, Young said.
In the Tri-Valley, that picture looks very different from the rest of the East Bay; Livermore has 264 homeless in its borders (85 sheltered and 179 living outdoors), Pleasanton counted 70 unsheltered individuals, and Dublin's tally was a mere eight people. About 13% of survey respondents said they became homeless after losing their job.
"When we say the word homeless, we think of the person that has mental health issues, is on the corner begging or has substance abuse issues," Young said. "A lot of the time it's you or I lost our job, have a little bit of mental health issues, got evicted, had something tragic happened in our life and now we're out there on the streets, we never expected that."
Tri-Valley homelessness is different and less visible from other parts of Alameda County because the area is more physically isolated, has fewer transients and no county offices in its cities. The lack of duplication among local one-of-a-kind service providers also means existing resources are usually stretched thin, making it difficult to meet people's needs, the panelists said.
"We don't provide direct social services as cities, that's the county's role. For many years the Tri-Valley has been perceived as a very wealthy community that doesn't have need, and that doesn't have need in comparison to the rest of the county," said Christine Beitsch-Bahmani from CityServe.
"Our number of homeless in comparison to the rest of the county is small, this is true, but we still have need," she added. "We don't have county resources, infrastructure, clinics that are out here. (Tri-Valley cities) work really hard to advocate with our county supervisors to get more resources here and really let the county know what our needs are."
Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore successfully applied as a region this year for one-time funding from the state's Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) for $1.1 million. Each city matched 30% toward the funding, which must be expended by March 2021, and are determined to maximize resources by working closely together.
With the largest homeless population of all three cities, Livermore has been taking charge and launched a pilot safe parking program with help from CityServe just before Thanksgiving.
The program rotates among several sites and includes an overnight attendant, portable restrooms, and participants are required to enroll with a case manager to use its services. Panelists said the local faith community has also been instrumental in helping feed and bathe their unhoused neighbors.
Livermore and Pleasanton law enforcement also formed a homeless liaison police team with dedicated officers who meet regularly and work alongside CityServe and other nonprofits like Tri-Valley Haven and Axis Community Health to cultivate trust with a demographic that's inclined to avoid police encounters.
Supportive housing is key in tackling homelessness and Livermore has taken the lead with plans to build 24 units of permanent affordable housing at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship site. Housing would be geared toward the homeless and have "deeply affordable" rents for those making 30% or less of the area median income.
The project would have a community room for residents, and a separate resource center for people still experiencing homelessness with on-site case management, mental health and substance abuse counseling, shower and laundry service, and mailboxes.
Financing is still coming together but Young estimates that groundbreaking for construction could be about a year away.
But no matter how much money is given, Becky Hopkins with the city of Pleasanton said that "we can't buy our way out of this problem" and everyone in the community needs to take a part by doing something.
"Individuals experiencing homelessness are people that deserve to be loved. For whatever reason, they don't have that and when you see someone start to care and love, it changes everything," Hopkins said. "We can't really go around and love all residents the way we wish we could, that's not our role as city staff, but that's where we recognize the faith community can, and our residents can."