COMMENTARY: Oakland’s Plan to Rehouse Wood Street Residents Can Only Fail a Self-Reliant Community
By Daisha Williams
Post News Group Intern
A large community of unhoused people have been living in an empty lot at 1707 Wood Street. The city of Oakland would like to remove them as soon as possible so they can build 170 units of affordable housing there.
If you live in Oakland or spend any considerable amount of time here, then you have probably seen this encampment at least a few times. The West Oakland community is estimated to include 200-300 individuals. They support each other in accessing food, water, medicine, clothing and other basic living necessities.
In an interview with a city of Oakland official, a spokesperson for the community, John Janosko, described a bike ride that they all took to Sacramento last October.
“That bike ride was amazing for me. Everyone had a chance to bond,” he said. “The people in Sacramento were so welcoming and it was my birthday that morning and they had a cake at 1 o’clock in the morning when we finally rolled in.”
This bike ride was planned, organized and executed by people who have banded together to survive in a system that doesn’t seem to care if they live or die and made the best of those circumstances.
Before the city of Oakland can begin building affordable housing, they are required to provide shelter for the people currently living there. The initial plan was to simply provide cabins near the lot for the people to live in. On Feb. 3, the U.S. District Judge William Orick said that the city could move forward with disbanding this unit only for that ruling to be reversed a week later, on Feb. 10.
Oakland Assistant City Administrator LaTonda Simmons said that the delay was due to issues finalizing the contract for the cabins as well as “IT network challenges.”
The city hasn’t released a timeline detailing when they expect to begin moving people out. Simmons commented on the delay in a statement. “We believe this minor delay will result in an even more supportive cabin program for the Wood Street community.”
Current plans for shelter for the residents include cabins with 30 beds each, which are expected to accommodate 100 people. There will also be 29 parking spaces available for people living in RVs with electrical hookups and bathrooms available.
Furthermore, the city expects to have 100 more beds available at other shelters in Oakland, which will effectively divide the community that the Wood Street residents have created for themselves.
But it is also the case that the amount of affordable housing that the city plans to build in this lot will not be enough to accommodate the people currently living there and what the city considers “affordable housing” is not affordable for many people.
Another hindrance for the community is the difficulty of qualifying for affordable housing.
One hurdle is that it is necessary to provide proof of income, which makes it even less accessible.
Another is that applicants must pass a criminal background screening. Since homelessness itself has been criminalized, many people currently living in the lot will not be able to pass that screening and qualify.
Many of the people now living at the Wood Street lot were residents of a neighboring encampment that was cleared out about a year ago. That they are back on the street can indicate that the city’s processes for quickly finding housing for people in dire need are ineffective.
This is summarized best by what James Vann, co-founder and advisor to the Oakland Homeless Advocacy Working Group, said in response to Judge Orwick’s decision.
“The calamity that will follow is another instance of the City’s failure to acknowledge the homelessness crisis as real and to implement timely actions to assure adequate accommodations and health and safety of the affected unhoused residents.”
Sources for this news article include the Mercury News, the City of Oakland and the Post News Group.
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