OAKLAND, Calif. - A recent count recorded 5,629 homeless people in Alameda County, which represents an increase of nearly 40-percent over the last count two years ago, the head of a homeless organization said Thursday.
"This problem is growing and we have a new baseline but it doesn't have to become our new normal," Elaine de Coligny, the executive director of EveryOne Home, said at a news conference in front of the Alameda County administration building in Oakland.
"57-percent of the people said it was money issues that made them homeless. A lot of times you hear mental health or drug issues but that's not why they become homeless. They become homeless because they can't afford rent," Coligny told ABC7 News.
De Coligny called for developers to commit to allocating more than 20-percent of new housing units for people whose income is less than 20 percent of the local median income, for voters to pressure California lawmakers to spend more money on producing and preserving affordable housing, and for property owners and landlords to commit to renting to homeless people.
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Joining de Coligny at the news conference, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said, "These numbers confirm what we already knew, which is that homelessness has grown exponentially."
Referring to the dramatic increase of homeless encampments in Oakland, Schaaf said, "We see it every day on our streets and it's painful to drive by our former neighbors who were formerly housed in Oakland and Alameda County."
"The budget I just proposed will allow us to bring sanitation and trash services up to 400 unsheltered residents a year to improve health and hygiene for the residence and for the communities around them," said Schaaf.
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"We need bathrooms, somewhere to Pee, somewhere to throw our garbage beside right on the street," a homeless resident told ABC7 News.
Oakland tried a pilot program to provide portable toilets and trash pickup for homeless. Even though there were some fires and problems the mayor say they've learned lessons and want to expand.
"I actually think this cleanup is necessary. They didn't say you got to get out and never come back. They were actually like we need to clean this up. If you guys come back we can't really do nothing about it," said Kwane Njissang, a homeless Oakland resident.
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The mayor said she and other Oakland officials are increasing their spending on programs and services for homeless people, including the expansion of a recent pilot program in West Oakland in which the city provided sanitation and trash services at an encampment.
Schaaf also said she and other community leaders in Alameda County will host a summit this summer that will develop a coordinated plan to try to solve the homelessness problem, which she said has now reached "a crisis level in Oakland."
Oakland will provide a camping area this summer as Alameda County leaders will look at ways to provide more long-term affordable housing.
The Bay City News contributed to this report.