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Bond Street homeless camp residents face impending eviction

on October 15, 2019

In Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, tension has been brewing as neighbors push city officials to evict people from a homeless encampment, which they say endangers children walking to school and creates health hazards.

The camp on Bond Street, where around 12 people live, sits between 42nd and High Streets. The camp consists of a mix of canopies and camping tents shielded from the street by a row of old cars. It abuts the fenced yards of people’s homes and is across the street from a middle school, Oakland Charter Academy (OCA). OCA parents, students, and nearby residents have organized for the eviction of the camp since it started in August, 2017.

Last week, about 60 community members from the neighborhood packed the Public Safety Committee meeting at Oakland City Hall to urge city officials to evict the members of the camp. The foyer buzzed as neighbors, parents and students greeted each other and vented about their frustrations with what they see as a lack of action by city officials.

District 5 Councilperson Noel Gallo, who represents the Bond Street area, led the meeting. “We’re a compassionate city, we’re a progressive city, we’re a sanctuary city,” he said in his opening remarks. But, he concluded, Oakland also needs to be “responsible to the residents and those of us who have been here a lifetime trying to raise our children, trying to grow our businesses.”

Next, Assistant City Administrator Maraskeshia Smith announced that the audience members would get what they were hoping for. “The location is actually scheduled to be closed on November 19th,” she said. After the camp is dismantled, the city administration will work with police to schedule regular patrols on Bond Street so people do not return, Smith said.

After Smith’s announcement, around 20 people quietly stood in line to take their turn at the podium to speak about why they feel the camp should be closed.

“We all know the people that live behind OCA participate in illegal activities, such as abuse of drugs and alcohol, public nudity, public urination and littering,” said Carla Lopez, an 8th grader at OCA. “I want safety for me and for my friends while we are at school. I want to be outside without witnessing crimes.”

OCA Principal Lucas Kelleher said, “The city absolutely needs to step up and address this and close the encampment, but then also step up and provide housing for them.” According to Kelleher, when school officials call Oakland police to monitor “events” that happen at the encampment, it takes hours for them to respond. “I want to ensure my students can walk safely to and from school without parent concern,” he said.

Rocario Miceli, a neighbor with a backyard that abuts the camp, a parent of a child at OCA, and longtime organizer for the camp’s closure, said that her son can no longer walk to school because of the safety issues posed by the encampment. “He has been approached by the homeless, he’s seen drug paraphernalia scattered everywhere, men defecating in front of kids,” she said.

Miceli’s home life is affected too, she continued. Noise from the camp keeps her up at night and the threat of a housefire haunts her because people light fires next to her fence to keep warm. One neighbor’s fence has already been burned. “Its only a matter of time for it to happen to us,” she said. She added that she has started taking anti-anxiety medication because of the stress, drawing gasps from the crowd.

Smith said to avoid lawsuits against the city and ensure the members of the camp don’t just move down the street, the current tenants must have somewhere to go. So, she said, between that day and November 4, housing and healthcare providers would go to the site, inform residents of the tentative closure date, and assess medical needs.

“I just want to be mindful and say this out loud: This is not an ‘us against them,’” Smith cautioned.

However, by Saturday, the camp members still had not heard about their eviction date. A man who identified himself as Q said that no one from the mayor’s office or Gallo’s office, nor any of the neighbors nor OCA representatives, had talked to the people in the camp about an eviction.

“That’s kind of wrong,” he said of the November 19 eviction date, adding “if they want to push us out of here, they should at least find us some place for us to go,” especially since there are only 12 or so camp residents. He can pay for housing, he said—he just can’t find a place. “If you kick me out of here, I’m just going to set up shop somewhere else until I can get into something,” he said.

Q works full-time as a medical courier and also cuts hair on the weekends, which he did while speaking under a party tent equipped with a Persian rug and a cooler. A sign made out of cardboard paper above his workspace read “No Smoking.”

“We’ve got a family here,” he said. “We all look out for each other.”

Denise and Rachel, two other residents of the camp who declined to give their last names, had not heard of their impending eviction, and gathered around the makeshift barber shop to discuss the news.

Denise said that she doesn’t know why city administrators decided to kick them out.

“It would have to be from the news,” Rachel replied.

Denise agreed there have been reports of people in the camp engaging in prostitution and using drugs.

“We don’t play that. We’re just down on our luck right now,” Denise said.

All three said the members of the camp try not to be a bother and keep the area tidy. No one has vandalized the school, they said, and parents still drop their kids off on Bond Street. The camp residents regularly throw the ball back into the schoolyard when it gets kicked over. 

“We’ve got family, like kids, too,” said Denise.

The group felt that neighbors and city officials are sending mixed messages. While some neighbors oppose the camp, according to Denise, others donate household items, food and even presents on Christmas. And, Denise added, in the last few months, Public Works employees, escorted by police, installed a portable toilet and started to clean up the camp every four days. All three all expressed gratitude for these developments, noting that life in the camp has become more bearable and cleaner since.

Mulling over the idea of contacting Gallo about the eviction date, Rachel said, “We’re so focused on trying to find housing and trying to survive, we don’t really think about that or have time.”

As they talked with each other, the immediate implications of an eviction started to sink in.

“For Thanksgiving we were all going to chip in and do our own little…” Denise started to say.

But Q interrupted. “We ain’t going to do it now,” he exclaimed. “They’re going to kick us out!”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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