Oakland committee approves new plan to address homelessness
on October 25, 2019
Representatives from Oakland’s Human Services Department unveiled a five-year updated Plan To Address Homelessness (PATH) that is aimed at making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. These highlights were presented to the Oakland City Council’s Life and Enrichment committee held on Tuesday evening. The updated PATH report was formulated in the context of the challenges of homelessness in Oakland. The report addresses key areas of funding, affordable housing policy, private land usage, public land policy, homelessness prevention policy and encampment management policy.
According to the League of California Cities, there has been a steep increase in homelessness throughout California between 2017 and 2019. According to the group’s research, in Alameda County, which is home to Oakland and Berkeley, homelessness increased by 43 percent in that time.
Armed with the report from the league, Councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5) led support for the PATH report. He asked fellow councilmembers to act with urgency. “I represent District 5, and from there I represent the city to the League of California Cities. We have a homelessness crisis. California tops the country in homelessness, followed by New York. We need to stop talking. And while trying to implement some of the policies, such breaking down encampments, we have to remember that even the homeless people are protected by the law,” said Gallo.
The PATH plan aims at closing the racial disparities of homelessness by providing affordable housing and emergency intervention programs, such as providing beds at shelters, and rehousing people quickly. PATH also focuses on issues that lead people to homelessness and exploring factors that might affect people as they transition to permanent housing. City officials intend to evaluate current homeless services with a focus on being fair and impartial, especially when addressing factors that affect African Americans, since the report highlights this group as being the most vulnerable to homelessness.
Nino Parker, a homeless advocate, agreed as he said, “Many times, city law enforcement treats the homeless like criminals. This may violate equal protection if there’s intentional discrimination, and that provides no rational basis for disparate treatment that we badly need.”
Data was presented to the committee from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), a program created by city officials to carry out intervention strategies related to homelessness. In 2019, HEAP put the total number of homeless residents in the city at 4,071. Oakland has 861 sheltered residents (those living in some form of habitable units), and 3,210 unsheltered (living on the streets or places not meant for human habitation). African Americans make up 70 percent of that population.
The report further indicated that 43 percent of the homeless population is made up of people who once owned a home or lived in an apartment. “I can’t emphasize enough how preventive strategies can be crucial in fighting homelessness. Our people need to be helped in every way as highlighted in the PATH plan,” said Sara Bedford, the city’s human services director.
The Life Enrichment Committee usually meets in a committee room, but Tuesday’s meeting was moved to the main gallery as public speakers numbered over 100. During the public comment session, Connie Gonzalez said that she’s a fulltime student at Laney College majoring in international studies. “I wish the city council understood why we ended up on the streets. I have three kids. My former husband almost killed us. I’m a victim of domestic violence. After enduring all the brutality from my ex-husband, I had nowhere to go. For two years, my children and I have lived on the streets of Oakland,” said Gonzalez.
As public speakers continued to seek answers, Lara Tannenbaum, the manager in charge of Community Housing Services Division, outlined the key areas of the PATH plan. The plan, she said, includes “making sure that fewer people become homeless, rehouse people quickly, increase, improve, maintain crisis response beds, increase and stabilize income, address impacts of unsheltered homelessness, and invest in affordable and supportive housing.”
The plan’s five-year goal is to make sure no families with children will be sleeping outdoors, in cars, or other places not meant for human habitation. The plan further aims at reducing the number of unsheltered people by half from 3,000 to 1,500.
Council President Rebecca Kaplan (At Large) said that she was very thrilled with the plan. “It’s very important to have and implement emergency strategies to shelter and re-house households. This is going to help in improving the health and safety of our communities,” said Kaplan.
Members of the committee, led by chairperson Councilmember Loren Taylor (District 6), unanimously adopted the report. Now it will head to discussion at the general council meeting.
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