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A group of 13 young people, all with their arms folded stand in front of an ornate white "Council Chamber" sign, looking down at the camera

Oakland Youth Commission sets sights on housing and mental health services for young people

on October 11, 2023

The 17-member Oakland Youth Commission met with new members for the first time this month, focusing on a project to provide more housing and mental health support to young people.

The commissioners — Oaklanders between the ages of 13 and 21 who are appointed by the mayor — are hopeful about the next year.

“This year, I want to speak at more events and engage with the community,” said Quincy Russell,15, who began his appointment last year. “I want to step up, be a leader, and speak up for my community.”

Term years typically begin in August or September and end in June. Commission members serve a two-year term and can be reappointed for a maximum of four years.

One of their major projects this year is the Career Technical Education for Transitional Aged Youth Hub, at 1025 Second Ave.. The facility will provide housing, mental health support, and hands-on job training for young people. The Oakland Youth Commission has been working with the Hub coalition to design the housing project and advocate for funding to complete it. In 2020, the Oakland Unified School District board voted to include the proposed Hub in the Measure Y school facilities bond project list and committed $15 million toward it. 

In a room with the American flag, 15 young people and one adult sit in wooden chairs around a very long, oblong wooden table.
The 2022-23 Oakland Youth Commissioner (by Maurice Seaty, courtesy of the commisson)

According to Alameda County’s 2022 National Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Month Proclamation, at least 31% of unhoused people in Alameda County in 2022 first experienced homelessness before their 25th birthday. A disproportionate number were youth of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The population of youths experiencing homelessness has increased by about 14% since 2019. 

Russell said the Hub is currently in the design phase. It’s expected to be finished in about four years. The commission hopes the Hub will represent a large step toward ending youth incarceration and youth homelessness by providing housing, resources, and career and educational counseling.

Oakland Youth Commission, previously known as the Youth Advisory Commission, began in 1985. The commission was created to advise the mayor and City Council on policy priorities impacting youth. The body also creates and executes its own community events and drafts policies to be considered by the City Council. The focuses of the commission include issues such as climate change, housing, cultural events, and government decision making. ​​

The commission has supported the Oakland Youth Vote Coalition, which pushes for youth engagement through voter registration; the return of land to the Ohlone People, who lived along the Northern California Coast before Spanish colonization; and No Coal in Oakland, a grassroots organization fighting to block the construction of a private coal export terminal on the Oakland waterfront.

Sara Tiras, 40, director of the Oakland Youth Commission, believes that such boards and commissions are a fundamental aspect of how cities practice democracy. 

“As long as there are youth in the community who want to serve on the Youth Commission, it will continue to exist,” she said.

Tiras said her role is to help build their leadership skills, confidence and understanding of how to navigate city government. 

“It’s not about my vision or projects; it’s their commission, and my role is to be an adult ally,” she said. “True youth empowerment isn’t just giving them power but also equipping them with the necessary development to exercise that power effectively within complex systems.” 

Commission member Sophia Hesseltine, 17, said she values the legacy built by past Oakland youth. 

“Many major movements, especially in the late ’60s, such as the Red Power Movement and the Chicano Movement, were led by young people like us,” she said. “Being on the Youth Commission for me is meaningful because it feels like I’m contributing to that legacy.” 

Hesseltine added, “I see myself as someone who has the opportunity to uplift youth voices, and show adults that it’s essential and worth looking into. I’m honored to have that opportunity.”

(Top photo by Maurice Seaty, courtesy of the commission)

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