Alameda County declares state of emergency over homelessness

Homeless tents line a sidewalk beneath the Highway 24 overpass in Oakland on Feb. 23, 2022. With a homeless population estimated at close to 10,000 people, Alameda County supervisors declared a state of emergency that may unlock access to more resources, including state and federal cash. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to authorize a countywide homelessness state of emergency.

The resolution, proposed by board president Nate Miley, directs the county’s Office of Homeless Care and Coordination (OHCC) to lead the development of an emergency response to homelessness and report back to the board with recommendations within 60 days.

In a statement, OHCC said that declaring a local state of emergency would unlock additional tools that could streamline procurement, the creation of housing and the ability to request state and federal funds.

It could expedite the implementation of the Home Together 2026 Community Plan, a five-year roadmap that centers on racial equity and identifies strategies for reducing homelessness in Alameda County.

Answering questions from the board, OHCC director Kerry Abbott said her staff will be exploring methods of speeding staff hires.

“Right now, once we receive funding, a new position recruitment and hire can take six to nine months,” Abbott said.

A chart from the Alameda County Home Together 2026 five-year plan breaks down the county’s homeless population by race. (Alameda County)

In his resolution, Miley pointed to a recent county survey that showed the homeless population has increased 22 percent since 2019, and 73 percent of homeless residents are unsheltered. While Alameda County is approximately 10 percent Black, about 43 per of its homeless population is Black. As of early 2022, Alameda County had at least 9,747 unhoused residents on a single night.

Emergency declarations tried elsewhere

In 2022, the city and county of Los Angeles declared a state of emergency on homelessness, which worked as a local coordination tool.

This summer, new Denver Mayor Mike Johnston made a similar declaration. His office identified 200 public plots for tiny home communities and initiated cooperation with the city’s landlords, property owners and hotels. Denver is applying for state grants and hopes for possible federal funding.

“While these local proclamations may serve as a useful organizing tool for local governments to streamline their responses, such proclamations do not in most cases meet the requirements for either state or federal emergency assistance,” said Brian Ferguson with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Along with a $15.3 billion investment in addressing homelessness since the governor took office, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration “has demanded more accountability at the local level when it comes to addressing housing and homelessness,” Ferguson said. “The administration has focused on working with local jurisdictions to meet their housing requirements, clean up encampments and get more vulnerable Californians off the streets and into housing.”

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors seemed a little unsure of how an emergency state on homelessness could work. So, they are asking the Office of Homeless Care and Coordination to do the research.

Supervisor Keith Carson said, “Nobody wants to oppose the measure, but we need to be specific about what we can do, as well as what we want to do.”

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