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City council renews declaration of local emergency on homelessness

on October 4, 2019

On Tuesday at the Oakland City Council meeting, city leaders and residents stood united in passing resolutions to address homelessness.

The council unanimously voted to renew its “Declaration of a Local Emergency on Homelessness.” Council president Rebecca Kaplan said that the city can no longer ignore the fact that many Oaklanders can no longer afford housing. “This is our own local refugee crisis, and many people are living in conditions without even the basic sanitation services that are provided in refugee camps around the world,” she said.

In an effort to intervene, the council allocated up to $800,000 to fund emergency shelter beds through the Human Services Department. Another $750,000 was allocated for the East Oakland Community Project, a nonprofit that helps homeless people in Alameda County by providing transitional housing and support services.

During the open forum, members of the public voiced their concerns about the city’s homelessness crisis. “Homelessness is not a crime. How we’re treated is the crime. Help us, don’t harm us,” said Needa Bee, the leader of the Village, a nonprofit organization that advocates for affordable housing. Bee’s concern arose from the eviction notices that city staffers have posted on several encampments scattered across Oakland. 

Several members of the public who took turns speaking during the open forum implored city leaders to act with kindness as they look for solutions to address the housing crisis.

In his remarks to the fully-packed gallery, Council Vice President Larry Reid (District 7), criticized the encampments and said they were leading to job losses. “You all know why the Golden State Warriors left, you surely know why the Raiders are about to move out,” he said. “It’s the pathetic unpleasant conditions created by the RV dwellers that is driving away businesses.’’ His remarks were met by boos from the gallery. 

Markaya Spikes, who lives in a tiny home built by nonprofit homeless advocates in a “curbside community,” responded to Reid. “It’s not being lazy that some of us can’t afford decent housing, rather the rising cost of rent pushed us out,” Spikes said. Spikes said she has a full-time job that pays her a minimum wage, but has seven children.

The council also passed a resolution renewing its longstanding local emergency declaration regarding the AIDS epidemic. Reacting to the renewal, Rob Newells, the executive director of the AIDS Project of the East Bay, an organization dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV and supporting people infected with the virus, said, “It’s of great importance the city recognizes the HIV is a threat to the people of Oakland. Passing this resolution is a step in the right direction.’’ Oakland will host the International AIDS Conference in July, 2020.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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