Berkeley has a large and visible population of people experiencing homelessness. Walk around Berkeley, and you’ll see tents and sleeping bags everywhere. Moreover, the number of people on the streets has been increasing. I left Berkeley for law school in 2013, and by the time I came back in 2016, I definitely noticed the change.
Sometimes people ask, “Why are these people living on the streets? Why aren’t they working?”
But let’s look at some basic math:
The average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Berkeley is $2100 a month.
Minimum wage in Berkeley is $13.25 an hour.
For a 40 hour workweek, that’s $2120 a month, before taxes. After taxes is closer to $1800. That $1800 must cover rent, utilities, food, clothing, and other expenses. But since the average rent for a one bedroom is $2100 a month, it’s really hard to find housing.
“But what about housing assistance?”
Berkeley does have Section 8 housing assistance. The wait list is currently closed. Last time it was open was in 2010. 39,000 people applied, and 1,500 people were accepted to the wait list. The wait list probably will stay closed for years.
People who are living on the street may well be working. But because of the sky high rent, they still may not be able to afford a place to live. The math just doesn’t work.