• Thu. Dec 8th, 2022

Homeless people set up protest camp at Oakland City Hall

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Oct 19, 2022

Early Tuesday morning, a group of homeless residents and supporters pitched several tents in front of Oakland City Hall.

But the structures were not there to provide shelter. They were a form of protest.

The residents came from the sprawling Wood Street encampment, where Caltrans has been working for several weeks to shut down the part of the camp that is on state land. The closure, which Caltrans attributes to frequent fires and safety risks at the site, displaced some 200 residents.

With the tent demonstration, residents said they were drawing attention to their lack of alternative options for shelter and pressuring the city to do something about it.

“Don’t evict people who don’t have a place to send them,” said LaMonte Ford, a former Wood Street resident. Microphone in hand, he made his point in front of the town hall to make it clear that he was sending a message to decision-makers.

Ford has lived in various camps in West Oakland for the past eight years and fears the loss of the support system he found on Wood Street.

Before moving there, “I was going to kill myself,” he said. “Instead, I found a piece of land, brotherhood and structure. It’s all the things you don’t see.

Although the Caltrans closure affects state-owned land, a federal judge has told the city and county they are partly responsible for finding shelter or housing for the approximately 200 people who live there. The tent protest was scheduled to coincide with a city council meeting, where officials were expected to vote on several next steps for residents.

One more step towards a new “cabins” program, a military base shelter

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council approved plans to double the number of “community huts” when a shelter opens in January on Wood Street. Oakland is already using $4.7 million from the state to open 50 cabins on Wood, prioritizing displaced residents, and Tuesday’s vote authorizes an additional $3.6 million in state money for 50 more. . At hut sites, residents live in small huts, alone or with roommates, and have access to social services.

The council also directed the city government to seek a waiver to establish a transitional housing program at the former Oakland military base, where Wood Street residents could eventually relocate. When the federal government turned over the site to Oakland after it was decommissioned in the 1990s, it prevented the city from using it as housing, due to likely environmental hazards. A state waiver is therefore required to move forward.

The council vote approved $100,000 to hire a consultant to start the waiver application process and directed the city to seek an additional $80,000 to fully cover the estimated cost. However, it will likely be many months before the city opens a homeless program there, if not years. And there are plans to move two recycling companies to the part of the site in question, called North Gateway.

Former Wood Street resident LaMonte Ford speaks at a rally on Tuesday morning, saying he found ‘brotherhood’ at the encampment. Credit: Natalie Orenstein

For weeks, the city administration and some council members have clashed over the use of the military base, located just across I-880 from Wood Street. Councilman Carroll Fife, whose district includes Wood Street and the military base, has passionately advocated using the area as a shelter, blaming the administration for dragging its feet and accusing staff of failing to address the homeless crisis -shelter as an emergency.

City administrator Ed Reiskin has repeatedly urged council to drop the idea of ​​a military base, saying the potentially dangerous site would take untold amounts of money and time to convert into a residence, starting with the cost of the waiver. He said the waiver process includes several months of site testing and analysis.

“There are alternatives that would be quicker and cheaper,” Reiskin told the board Tuesday, proposing that the board direct the $180,000 toward leasing two other vacant Caltrans properties.

Fife scoffed at his comments on the waiver price.

“You are all sneezing at $180,000. We just had a million-dollar audit,” she said, referring to findings that Oakland spent $69 million on homelessness programs over three years, but didn’t. has not achieved the objectives of transferring people to housing.

The other two Caltrans lots in question are both in West Oakland, on Mandela Parkway and Beach Street, and could be used as sites for people living in vehicles. There was a previous RV program at Beach Street, and the city just renewed its lease with Caltrans to reopen the program. However, the site can only accommodate 18 recreational vehicles and the city will have to find funding if it wants to keep the program going.

The Mandela site could potentially house 75 vehicle dwellings, and Caltrans has agreed to lease it to the city. However, continued use of the two sites, along with service providers and security, could cost $2 million a year, Reiskin warned.

The council ultimately approved the military base’s waiver plan, with council member Noel Gallo voting no and council member Dan Kalb abstaining. Council members also told administration to explore possibilities at the other two sites, returning to council with a plan for the Mandela lot.

Closure of Wood Street was a ‘cataclysm’, resident says

Where are the former residents of Wood Street now? In a report to the council, Reiskin said “all those displaced have been offered shelter”.

As of last week, 92 people had accepted those offers, 108 had declined them and four people were still living in the camp, according to the city. The offerings included a range of emergency shelters and transitional accommodation, including community huts, RV sites and hotel-type facilities.

Many Wood Street residents, the majority of whom lived in vehicles at the camp, said the particular sites offered to them did not meet their needs, for example, requiring them to give up their trailer or give up their pets. company.

In other cases, “our outreach teams report that a common narrative they hear from people who have flatly refused assistance is that housing is a right and should therefore be free, and they say [they] will only accept his own free apartment,” Reiskin wrote.

At the rally in front of City Hall, displaced residents said their goal was to stay together as a group.

“You are breaking up our community… which is my family,” said Kelly Castillo, who has lived on Wood Street for three years. “It’s a total cataclysm, total devastation.”

She implored the city to “reduce bureaucracy”, giving them immediate access to land without involving contractors, service providers and consultants.

“We are capable of governing ourselves,” she says.

Following the closure of the camp, a group of residents unsuccessfully attempted to move to the other vacant lots owned by Caltrans.

Some people moved to the grounds at Mandela Parkway and 34th Street until California Highway Patrol officers arrived and evicted them. They also tried to move to the Beach Street site before it officially reopened, but were not allowed to.

After the council vote on Tuesday, the group at City Hall concluded their protest, never intending to stay the night. They dismantled their tents and looked for the next place to land.