In the angry aftermath of the city’s eviction of a homeless encampment in North Oakland, Councilmember Noel Gallo and Joe DeVries, assistant to the City Administrator, met Wednesday afternoon with a group of homeless and homeless advocates to work on immediate solutions to the crisis that is throwing more and more people out onto the streets.
Known as “The Village” or “The Promised Land,” the small camp had taken over a section of Grove Shafter Park and Martin Luther King Jr. Way on Jan. 21. The camp was torn down last Thursday morning by a contingent of Oakland Police and the city’s Department of Public Works.
There had been five structures at the small camp, built with pallets and plywood and two-by-fours. Sixteen people lived there in tents. The camp also offered services to hundreds of people a week.
Speaking at the Wednesday City Hall meeting, organizer Needa Bee read a prepared statement, blaming DeVries for the destruction of The Promised Land.
“On Monday, Jan. 23, you came to The Promised Land and told volunteers you admired what we were doing,” she said.
“But a few days later, you returned to The Promised Land to supervise the posting of eviction notices. And two days later, you supervised the violent and inhumane demolition of our homes and free, much needed services we offered the community.”
An estimated 2,000 to 4,000 homeless people are living in Oakland, and the numbers are growing rapidly.
DeVries said the city had received dozens of complaints from nearby residents and a 30-day correction letter from Caltrans saying the city was in violation of its lease on the property. Several city departments had also complained about the unapproved encampment.
One of the major issues for Caltrans and the city is liability.
The city has established a staff task force that meets every Friday to come up with recommendations. The task force includes the City Administrator’s Office, Oakland Police Department, Public Works and the Human Services Department.
“We, the city, cannot solve homelessness. We are not the solution. That’s where the community comes in,” said Lara Tannenbaum of the city’s Human Services Department.
She said that not much city land is likely to be available, but the city can find private property and buildings that it can lease.
DeVries and Tannenbaum said immediate winter shelter space is available at 675 San Pablo (at 23rd Street). Shelters are not a solution but can help some people find a warm cot, they said.
Participants in the meeting called on the city to open certain city parks and other vacant land for authorized homeless encampments. They asked the city to take a hands-off approach, allowing the homeless to organize themselves.
They say they want spaces that include sanitary services, wash stations and drinkable water.
Councilmember Gallo told the Post that the city is facing an emergency and must act.
“This the reality: the homeless population is going to continue to grow,” he said.
“We have to hear from the homeless and start to craft ordinances and recommendations of what to do, besides just talking about the emergency.”