Homeless encampment eviction at Lake Merritt thwarted by protesters

Homeless residents living under the 12th Street Bridge near Lake Merritt vowed not to leave during an encampment.

Homeless residents living under the 12th Street Bridge near Lake Merritt vowed not to leave their encampment.

The city’s planned “clear-out” of a homeless encampment under Oakland’s 12th Street bridge did not happen Wednesday morning after a crowd of homeless advocates flooded the site in protest.

“We were successful today,” said Nino Parker, who lives in a tent above the bridge, after city officials left. Parker recruited homeless advocates, as well as city council and mayoral candidates, to show up to the site to protest the “eviction.”

Oakland city staff had vowed to clear the encampments around Lake Merritt weeks ago after opening their third “cabin community” at the southeast corner of the lake earlier this month. Joe DeVries, the assistant city administrator in charge of coordinating homeless services, said many homeless people living around Lake Merritt were offered one of the 40 bed spaces at the new Tuff Shed site.

The clear-out was planned for Wednesday at no specified time, but by 8:30 a.m., about 50 people had gathered holding signs, chatting and distributing coffee and breakfast sandwiches to the group.

Parker and DeVries got into a shouting match under the bridge when the city administrator showed up with Oakland police officers to clear the site, with Parker yelling “Not this time!” Just before 10 a.m. DeVries, surrounded by cameras, answered questions from reporters about the reason the city planned to clear this encampment. Parker, standing in the background, persistently injected, refuting the statements DeVries was giving to the press.

“Joe, you shouldn’t talk, because everything you say is bullshit,” said Parker.

The interruptions continued until the press conference turned into a one-on-one argument between Parker and DeVries.

“We actually offered you the first spot at the community cabins,” said DeVries to Parker, referring to the new Tuff Shed site near the lake. “You said you wouldn’t move in unless I moved in. You’re going to have to talk to my wife about that.”

“You talk to your wife about that,” said Parker.

The ten-minute exchange ended with DeVries walking away, mumbling “I’m done” as Parker called DeVries the “eviction king.”

“A bunch of activists showed up to make it impossible for us to do our work, so we left,” DeVries wrote later in a text to Oakland North. When asked if city staff will come back later to clear the site, DeVries wrote: “We’ll see.”

Meanwhile, another nearby encampment known as The Village is preparing to move. Oakland city staff finally identified two sites where they can relocate people living at the intersection of East 12th and 23rd Avenues. They include two city-owned properties: a large plot at 3050 International Boulevard and a small site that used to house the Miller Avenue Library.

DeVries presented the two locations to the Life and Enrichment city council committee Tuesday as part of a larger update on the steps city staff are taking to address Oakland’s growing homeless population. The committee’s chair, Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney (District 3), indicated the meeting was running 45 minutes late, and DeVries said he would “be as quick as I can” in running through the detailed 17-page report.

According to the report, city staff have been working to identify a place to relocate Village residents since January, when they moved onto a city-owned a plot of land near East 12th and 23rd Avenue. DeVries said the property needs to be cleared so crews can retrofit the 23rd Avenue bridge, which runs above the camp.

The Village is an intentional community set up and run by activists, primarily founder Needa Bee. She’s been working with city staff to find a new location since volunteers constructed tiny homes on the site last January.

DeVries told the committee that residents wishing to remain part of The Village community will move to the Miller Avenue Library site. Those choosing not to move there will be offered a spot at the new “cabin community” on International Boulevard. “Opening this community cabin location is the city’s highest priority in the next 60 days,” said DeVries.

But that plan is already facing criticism. District 5 City Councilmember Noel Gallo, who is not a member of the Life and Enrichment Committee, told committee members during public comment that International Boulevard site has already been promised to the Native American Health Center for an affordable housing development. After the meeting, DeVries confirmed the site’s future use an apartment complex, pharmacy and health center, but noted that construction isn’t set to begin for two years.

Bee told the committee she’s opposed to using the health center’s location, but her primary concern is the Tuff Sheds planned for the site calling them “toxic,” expressing concern about the materials the sheds are made of. “The people at The Village who are not moving onto The Village site will not move into a Tuff Shed. I told Joe, ‘People need to be supported, not herded,’” said Bee.

The full council is set to take up the issue at its next meeting on Tuesday, October 30.

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