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Wood Street cabins

Wood Street cabin residents say city doing little to get them permanent housing

on November 7, 2023

Residents of Oakland’s 100-bed cabin shelter program on Wood Street have raised concerns about the program’s effectiveness, saying that it is unclear whether they will be able to move into permanent housing.

Last April, the city shut down the Wood Street encampment and removed the 60 remaining residents from the site. Thirty-nine people moved into the cabins at 2601 Wood St., and 11 moved into the adjoining RV safe parking lot, according to a city news release. Some spread into the surrounding neighborhood or moved to other parts of the city.

The state gave Oakland $8.3 million to fund the creation of the cabin site, according to the city. The cabins are temporary shelters, and residents are expected to transition into permanent housing within six months. But since moving into the cabin shelters, some residents, such as John Janosko, 55, have said that they are still waiting to receive support from case managers and permanent housing options.

“All they’re doing is babysitting us,” Janosko said. “They’re not giving anyone the skills necessary to be able to maintain permanent housing. … They’re not addressing behaviors that got them here in the first place.”

A woman sits on a dark couch stone-faced, blue eyes staring at the camera, long light brown hair. She is wearing a red T-shirt and her hands are clutched on her lap, a large white beaded braclet on her left wrist.
Jessica “Freeway” Blalock says she was kicked out of Oakland’s cabin shelter program. (Chris Lee)

The city said that the nonprofit it contracts with to manage the site, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency tracks all program exits. BOSS — which Oakland contracted with for $4.5 million — declined to comment on the Wood Street site and referred all questions about the program to Oakland.

The city did not answer Oakland North’s questions about what specific services are provided at the Wood Street cabin shelters or how many individuals have exited the program into permanent housing. It only offered a written statement, which read: “There continues to be very high demand at the cabin shelter programs, however, they are not for everyone, and participants are of course free to decline these free programs and services.”

Ryan Finnigan, associate research director for UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, said the ultimate goal of transitional housing is to move people into permanent housing. However, providing a dignified experience and improving people’s health, safety and well-being in the meantime are important goals that can’t be overlooked, he said.

“It’s really hard to expect them to thrive if they’re not getting wrap-around services,” Finnigan said.

Bad track record

For years, Oakland has had mixed results at its cabin shelter sites.

An audit of the city’s homeless services published last year found that from 2018 to 2021, the city’s cabin shelter programs chronically fell short of their target to permanently house half of the homeless people who entered the program. The report found that homeless residents transitioned to permanent housing less than a third of the time. In fiscal year 2021, about half of the people sheltered in cabins wound up back on the street.

The auditor made about 30 recommendations to the city. Those include collecting better information about people who transition into permanent housing, improving homeless enrollment in benefit programs, developing a data dashboard to track bed utilization and program exits, and monitoring the third-party contractors that the city uses to administer its homeless services to evaluate their performance.

Former City Administrator Edward Reiskin replied to the auditor on Sept. 9, 2022, that the city would respond to the recommendations by 2024 at the latest. The city administrator’s office has yet to issue a follow-up report.

Five sketches from all angles of the 8-feet by 10-feet wooden cabins housing people on Wood Street.
Sketch of the Wood Street cabins (city of Oakland)

The 8’x10’ cabin shelters at Wood Street have overhead lighting, electrical outlets, panel heaters, mini refrigerators and oscillating fans inside each unit. Communal bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities and kitchens are also offered. Many of these amenities were not included at the city’s earlier cabin shelters, said Michael Pyatok, an architect who consulted with the city to develop the site.

The residents are also provided two meals per day. However, some said other services — job placement support, case management and counseling, which the city contracts with BOSS to provide, are lacking.

‘Completely ignored’

Jessica Blalock, 33, who goes by the moniker Freeway, used to live in a Wood Street cabin shelter. When she asked a BOSS site manager about case management and counseling, she said that she was repeatedly told there was no money for those services.

“There’s no transparency. There’s no cooperation with the residents. If you try to work with them, if you try to make a recommendation or a suggestion, a lot of times you’re either laughed at or just completely ignored,” Blalock said.

BOSS said in a written statement that all of its staff receive 40 hours of training per year in various subjects including trauma-informed care and de-escalation.

Blalock was kicked out of the cabin program in September after an incident with one of the site managers. Her husband continues to stay in a cabin site. He built her a makeshift shelter out of pallets at a nearby encampment.

“When I got kicked out of here, I had nowhere else to go,” Blalock said. I couldn’t go into a shelter and not be near my husband and my network here.”

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