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Oakland council approves increase in shelter beds while displacing homeless encampment

on October 17, 2018

Over a year after Oakland declared a state of emergency on homelessness, during a sparsely-attended city council meeting on Tuesday night, councilmembers passed two resolutions intended to help those living on the streets.

The first will increase the number of beds in emergency shelters, with a specific focus on adding more beds in the winter and for elderly people. The St. Vincent de Paul shelter that was only open in the winter will now be open year-round, starting this month. This already-existing shelter on East 23rd and 9th Avenue has 100 beds, with the majority available through referral services from outreach and advocacy organizations and a few set aside for walk-ins. St. Vincent de Paul staff will connect shelter residents to housing resources and help find ways to reconnect them with family members. Showers, storage, breakfast and lunch will also be provided.

According to the resolution, 25 more winter beds exclusively for those older than age 55 will be added to the St. Mary’s Center shelter. The East Oakland Community Project will also add 10 more emergency winter beds to their Crossroads Shelter, with an emphasis on housing those currently living in encampments in East Oakland. All three shelters will use grant money from Oakland’s general fund, and a newly-announced $160,000 from Alameda County and Emeryville to be used towards winter and year-round shelters. While 135 more beds will be opened up following this resolution, roughly 1,900 homeless residents are still in need of shelter, according to a city report.

The second resolution the council passed was to start a safe parking program that would give people living in their cars a place to park free of fears of break-ins or being towed by the city. City staff said they are still working with the Interfaith Council of Alameda, which would provide church-owned land for the parking program, to decide whether it will be held in one large lot or multiple smaller ones spread throughout the city. The program will also provide showers, bathrooms and staff to connect homeless people with outreach services.

“This would allow for church properties to be used to help the homeless. It’s only one of a list of needed steps, but it’s before us tonight for action. I urge you all to vote yes,” said Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan.

Both resolutions were passed unanimously.

Yet, as the council passed these resolutions to alleviate some of the many worries homeless residents of Oakland have, they also approved an overpass retrofitting project that will displace a homeless encampment that sits below it. The East Oakland encampment, called The Village, was only supposed to be temporary, but now has over 80 residents living there. Under the resolution, construction will begin in January 2019.

City administrator Joe DeVries will give proposed relocation spots for the camp on October 23 at the Life Enrichment Committee meeting, and the council will vote on the spots at their next council meeting on October 30.

The councilmember for the district that includes the project, Noel Gallo (District 5), expressed frustration that The Village has been running for along as it has. “The Village, when it started, was supposed to be a three-month effort,” he said. He said that a family center across the street only agreed to the camp being permitted there for three months because they were remodeling during that time. Now that the remodeling is done, the center staff want to use the park where The Village is located, he said. “The challenge is that we don’t have open spaces in that park. That park was jewel for those communities to use,” Gallo said,

Also, he said, the East Bay Arts Alliance is opening up low income-housing across from The Village. Gallo said there is a concern for the safety and sanitation of the residents moving into the low-income housing, considering the fire-prone and vermin-infested conditions of The Village across the street. In the past year,  there have been several fires at the village, with the most recent happening in early September.

Gallo also expressed concern with the safety of residents living in The Village if the bridge is not retrofitted. “If we have an earthquake, that structure’s coming down. It’s coming down right on top of their heads,” said Gallo. “We should work to relocate them to a better site that’s better managed and safer.”

During public comment, Oakland resident Assata Olugbala criticized the council for passing the resolution to retrofit the overpass without securing a place for The Village residents to go first. “It’s like the homeless are an afterthought,” Olugbala said.

The resolution was passed with Kaplan abstaining.

The council also repealed an ordinance that made it illegal for people to loiter on Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) property. This comes after residents of an OHA property sued the city for what they say is routine police harassment and racial profiling.

In a brief address, Maria Bee from the city’s attorney’s office said of the old ordinance, “There may be some constitutional issues with this ordinance, so we are recommending the council vote to repeal.”

The council voted unanimously to repeal the ordinance.

What otherwise would have been a run-of-the-mill council meeting was interrupted by Council President Larry Reid (District 7). He called out Kaplan for submitting an ordinance on Monday that asks elected officials to sell the Warriors tickets that are given free to Oakland officials, and use the profits to fund the Green Team, a program that hires homeless people to clean up Oakland. “I get tired of all us sitting around playing games to come out looking like we’re miss goody-goody two shoes,” Reid said.

Kaplan responded that she has always been open to giving up tickets, which Reid refuted. The councilmember overseeing the meeting, Abel Guillén (District 2), stopped the back-and-forth to go back to talking about items on the agenda.

An investigation by The San Jose Mercury News in 2016 found that city officials claimed more than 7,000 tickets worth millions of dollars over three seasons to Warriors games. According to the report, Reid used the most tickets of all councilmembers – 336 in 2016.

The next council meeting will be on October 30.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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