OAKLAND -- On Tuesday, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to declare a countywide state of emergency on homelessness.
The authorization comes as the homeless population in the county has jumped 22% since 2019 with nearly 10,000 people experiencing homelessness.
For four decades, Paul Beggins has been pushing a shopping cart through the streets of Oakland. At 78 years old, he now carries little more than a change of clothes and some water. Still, beneath his weathered exterior, he holds memories of a life before homelessness.
"I was raised in Indiana. And then when I was seventeen or eighteen, I came out here," said Beggins.
Beggins studied Philosophy at UC Berkeley but explains that "life decisions" led him to the streets in the 1980s, where he has remained without a home ever since.
"I don't know where my mom and dad went," he said, his voice trailing off. "They had to go back to their home country, and I don't know where that was."
Beggins' story is tragically typical on the streets of Alameda County, an issue that the Board of Supervisors is determined to address.
"With everything that's been happening at the county to try to address homelessness, we still see a tremendous increase in the number of people who are sheltering on our streets every night, and it goes up every year. Right now, especially, because we are at the end of most of the pandemic-era rental protections, there's largely expected to be an eviction tsunami," explained Erin Armstrong, Senior Policy Advisor for Supervisor Nate Miley.
To counter this crisis, Armstrong suggested declaring a state of emergency. The move that the board took won't immediately unlock funding, but it signifies a commitment to taking swift and effective action.
"This action doesn't unlock any money," Armstrong clarified. "What it does is declare that state of emergency and ask county staff to develop an emergency response to homelessness, reporting back to the Board of Supervisors in 60 days. Some of the things that this could unlock would end up in the emergency response, including additional resources from our state and federal partners."
Armstrong emphasized that this declaration complements ongoing efforts by the Office of Homeless Care and Coordination, which includes a community plan involving a $2.5 billion investment in shelter, housing, and rental assistance.
For Paul Beggins, the news of these initiatives is welcome, but his focus remains on securing genuine housing options. He has been living at a camp near Lake Merritt for nearly six months, and he's determined to see meaningful change for himself and others facing homelessness in Oakland.
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