Alameda County Homeless Action Center

aka Homeless Action Center (HAC)   |   Berkeley, CA   |


People who are homeless are poor, disabled, ill and marginalized. The Homeless Action Center (HAC) provides no-cost, barrier-free, culturally competent legal representation that allows homeless men and women to access the maze of social safety net programs that provide a pathway out of homelessness. Clients obtain health care, housing, a sustainable income, and restored dignity. HAC is the only program in the San Francisco Bay Area that specializes in legal assistance to those who are chronically homeless.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Ms. Patricia Wall

Main address

3126 Shattuck Avenue

Berkeley, CA 94705 USA

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NTEE code info

Legal Services (I80)

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Programs and results

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Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Securing the Lifeline

The typical clients of the Homeless Action Center are both homeless and mentally ill. Many suffer from severe psychosis or paranoia. Their situation is desperate. Their homelessness is chronic.

It is extremely difficult for these men and women to access the several well-established social safety net programs that provide for basic needs. Application forms are long. Factual requirements and other details are difficult to provide. Applying for Supplemental Security Income is virtually impossible without assistance. Hurdles include complicated forms, required appointments and the need to document a history of medical treatment to meet a complex definition of disability. Resolution of a case can take months and sometimes years.

HAC has developed seven strategies specially designed to meet both the legal and the life-on-the street needs of our clients. All assistance is free and HAC does not request any share at all of any funds a client may be awarded.

1. From the first minute of contact, HAC moves quickly to get the benefits process started. Wherever HAC meets or is contacted by a potential client, HAC staff have the tools to screen the client immediately and begin the application processes if the client so desires. For example, we bring a computer and scanner to outreach events. In many cases, an application can be completed without having to arrange for a second meeting. But if additional documentation or information is needed, HAC can provide transportation for subsequent meetings and/or meet clients at locations that work for them. HAC has even arranged to hold SSI hearings by telephone if the client is in jail. When clients who are successful get out of jail, HAC arranges a softer landing by making sure they have a shelter bed for the night they get released.

2. HAC's legal representation is culturally competent, unbiased and client-centered. Staff languages include Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean and Khmer. For other languages, HAC has interpreters on call. Staff are trained to be sensitive to stigma associated with incarceration, homelessness, disability and limited English proficiency. They are equally sensitive to complicated issues around race, class, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. HAC has a zero tolerance policy for any kind of discrimination or bias.

3. At the start of a case, HAC immediately applies for General Assistance, CalFresh (food stamps) and Medi-Cal to help the client survive the long SSI waiting period. Medi-Cal, which covers essential health care, can be available in 45 days; the other basic benefits take even less time. HAC also helps clients get a California I.D. and, if necessary, a birth certificate so they can apply for subsidized housing that is appropriate to their needs. If the case goes to federal court, the client will need an I.D. to enter the court house!

4. HAC actively pursues all stages of the SSI application process, from collecting medical records and filing applications and appeals, to representing clients at judicial hearings when necessary. If additional documentation, information and appointments are needed, HAC has three insured vehicles and can transport clients to necessary meetings. HAC schedules and pays for psychological examinations to obtain necessary medical evidence.

5. While their claims are pending, HAC assists clients with obtaining shelter, medical care, nutritional food, transportation and other needs that typically arise. All three HAC offices are open for drop in 25 hours a week. Both current and past clients can visit at any time during open hours for assistance, advice or just a supportive chat. HAC staff understand the need to use every client interaction as an opportunity to build trust, keep the client motivated and treat the client with dignity.

6. No homeless person is turned away. Clients may miss appointments, ignore instructions, arrive intoxicated and even manifest severe psychosis. We recognize the difficulties in their lives. We strive to provide a safe, calm and respectful environment for every client. HAC does not terminate clients for anti-social behavior. We recognize that erratic and self-defeating client behavior is often the result of severe psychosocial stressors, trauma and mental illness.

7. If SSI is awarded but the client is believed not capable of handling money, a designated payee is required to manage the SSI payments. HAC can assist clients to sign up with a reliable institutional payee. If recipients later have a problem with an uncooperative payee, HAC again provides pro bono assistance.

Population(s) Served

Because of changes in Washington, the social safety net is under attack. The programs our clients rely on are at actual and imminent risk. Social Security, Medi-Cal, Unemployment Benefits, VA benefits, HUD-funded housing and housing subsidies (Section 8 and Shelter Plus Care), VA housing subsidies and the Affordable Care Act are all threatened. HAC will not stand idly by as these programs are incrementally devastated and eliminated. All of us at HAC will fight our hardest to protect our clients from the worst possible outcomes and to secure their rights.

HAC is the only legal services program in the Bay Area that focuses solely on benefits advocacy for those who are homeless or at serious risk of homelessness. We are in a unique position to monitor the direct effect of government programs and policies on the plight of the homeless, accumulate facts and provide testimony. Our efforts to protect our clients from the dangers ahead will take at least three forms:

First, HAC attorneys and advocates will draw upon our accumulated expertise on federal benefits law to scrutinize restrictions or changes as they emerge. We will research, challenge and search for alternatives. We will make sure that everyone on our staff is well-informed about new tactics and strategies.

Second, we will initiate action. We will reach out to other legal services programs to marshal relevant facts and develop local efforts to prevent the demolition of needed programs. Although the mission of HAC is not litigation, we can bring facts and developments to the attention of those that do litigate. And we can help create coalitions to support such efforts.

For example, a city agency that provides central intake for services to our homeless clients has recently been excluding clients by imposing extreme access requirements. The agency gives our clients homework assignments such as gathering documentation of income and homelessness, before they will serve them. This is difficult enough for anyone, but for someone with mental health conditions who is unable to focus, prioritize, deal with public agencies or follow up, it is impossible.

We discussed this situation with a legal services program specializing in disability rights. They sent a demand letter to the city and also met with the city attorney. We are optimistic this problem can be resolved.

Third, HAC will advise colleagues from other legal services programs who are considering or engaged in litigation involving homeless people. HAC will participate, as appropriate, as organizational plaintiffs in such litigation.

For example, CalTrans is the owner of property under freeway overpasses where people commonly camp out. It has come to the attention of many legal services programs that CalTrans is violating the law and its own policies when they clear those encampments. Case law and statutes require CalTrans to hold people's property for a set amount of time and allow people access to claim it. Instead, the agency has been unlawfully disposing of the property. Many times this property is immediately and summarily destroyed.

HAC has joined with several individual plaintiffs and one other legal services program in filing a lawsuit. Our participation adds both weight to the complaint as well as a party that has detailed familiarity with relevant facts and access to potential witnesses.

Population(s) Served

Where we work

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Short Term Objectives

During 2017, HAC will complete, open or continue work on at least 900 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cases for indigent, disabled homeless clients. HAC will succeed in maintaining contact with these clients during the long SSI waiting period. Less than 8% of all SSI cases will be closed due to client disappearance or failure to cooperate. The approval rate for SSI cases will be 80% or higher. HAC clients will become eligible for Medi-Cal within 45 days of filing and for General Assistance and Cal-Fresh (food stamps) within 30 days. The approval rate for Medi-Cal will be 99%.

Long Term Objectives

Previously homeless clients reside in Permanent Supportive Housing or in some other safe situation such as the home of a relative. They receive medical care and treatment for mental health issues. Addictive or harmful behavior is eliminated or greatly reduced.

HAC succeeds in helping to protect the social safety net from incremental devastation and elimination by federal authorities. Through wise and solid decisions and appropriate action under the law, HAC helps to prevent, limit, delay, restrict or void policies that actively harm our clients and homeless people throughout the country. If the implementation of such policies cannot be prevented, at least their harmful effects are minimized.

HAC's strategies for reaching our objectives are described as part of our program descriptions above.


Alameda County Homeless Action Center

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Alameda County Homeless Action Center

Board of directors
as of 1/24/2020
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Mr. Armen Zohrabian

Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP

Term: 2013 -

Armen Zohrabian

Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP

John George

Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP

Jack Jackson

Department of Politics, Whitman College

Megan Wachspress

Altshuler Berzon LLP

Tushar Karkhanis


Roger Lin

Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment

Angela Bates

Pacific Gas & Electric Company

Claire Markham

Zachary Lam

Strong Workforce Program at City College of San Francisco