Local faith-based organizations have stepped up to help create a solution to the human rights crisis posed by the City’s failure so far to effectively respond to the growing homeless encampments in Oakland— including the public health dangers associated with large numbers of unhoused people living on the streets.
Five local churches have already agreed to offer their church parking lots as spaces where the homeless can live in tiny houses, as they become available, or park and live in their vehicles in safety with bathrooms, running water and garbage disposal—not preyed on by criminals or periodically driven from their encampments by police and city officials.
In addition, the churches have facilities that can be used for classrooms for job and career training, as well as to provide county health and human services.
Surprisingly, the main obstacle to these faith-based proposals appears to be the indifference and lack of urgency on the part of Mayor Libby Schaaf and her administration, which has not acted on this proposal for nine months.
When the members of the Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) met with the mayor in March, she was unsympathetic to short-term solutions proposed by the faith leaders.
When she attended a public meeting of ICAC in June, she pledged to expedite the proposal. However, ICAC only received one noncommittal call from the Mayor’s Office. No further calls or emails were sent to ICAC between June and this week, when the administration finally agreed to start the process of providing resources for the proposal.
But the process, as outlined by the city official, could not likely be implemented before the November election—possibly not until next year.
ICAC’s proposal, developed late last year, was to create safe car parks and tiny homes for the homeless throughout Alameda County.
“We want to start this in Oakland, but this will be a countywide initiative for safe car parks and spaces for tiny homes,” said Pastor Ken Chambers, founder and president of ICAC.
The first priority will be to provide space for families and women with children. Two tiny houses, built by students at Laney College in Oakland, will provide spaces for homeless Laney students, he said.
Five Oakland churches have expressed interest in providing space for safe car parks:
- Corinthian Baptist Church,
- North Oakland Missionary Baptist Church,
- Pleasant Grove Baptist Church,
- Morning Star Baptist Church,
- West Side Missionary Baptist Church.
Other faith organizations that are supporting the effort include Temple Sinai, which is providing bedding and supplies, and Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, which is providing organizational sponsorship.
Dr. Kenneth Anderson of Williams Chapel Baptist Church is hosting the upcoming ICAC meeting and is planning to build affordable housing at his church for seniors.
The San Francisco Foundation is providing a $175,000 two-year grant to ICAC for capacity building and car parks. The City of Oakland has earmarked $300,000 for homeless hygiene, which staff has said could be directed to the safe car park program.
When Mayor Schaaf first met in March with 30 community members organized by ICAC, she did not back the proposal, instead countering with a suggestion of long-term affordable housing in the church parking lots, said Pastor Chambers.
ICAC supports affordable housing development but is calling for immediate emergency temporary tiny housing.
“It was a very tense meeting,” he said. “A lot of folks thought her tone was really insensitive to the needs of the homeless population. She was not interested in ICAC’s temporary, short-term solutions.”
While it is true the Mayor’s administration has found funding for some Tuff Sheds, the crisis is still growing, he continued.
“When you visit the encampments, you see rats. You see people living without water or basic hygiene,” said Pastor Chambers. “There are homeless families with children. This is not something that can wait. The City needs to act on this today.”
In April, the City Council passed a resolution that included ICAC’s requests, directing the administration to follow up within 90 days by “giving authorizations to churches and other community-based organizations to use their properties to help the homeless, as well as coming up with proposals regarding insurance and more,” said Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan.
At the June ICAC meeting, Mayor Schaaf committed to moving ahead on the proposal. After the meeting, the only response was from the Mayor’s chief of staff, who said the administration had to research the commitments that the mayor had made.
Pastor Chambers did not receive any more follow-up or return calls for almost two months.
Pastor Chambers finally received a call from Assistant City Administrator Joe DeVries this week, informing the Pastor that the proposal for the $300,000 grant would go to city’s Life Enrichment committee Sept. 11, and then to City Council.
An RFP process could then start in October, which means the project could go ahead as late as November, or even next year.
Pastor Chambers says that after waiting all these months, the city should not go through an RFP, but instead should give a sole source grant to ICAC to get the project rolling.
“To me, this is just kicking the can down the road. The mayor gets the credit for making the announcement rather than doing something. To me, this is playing politics,” he said.
“Putting off this program until after the November election raises alarm bells whether the administration has the intention to ever implement our proposal,” he added. “People in the homeless encampments are living in survival mode. We need to provide space for them right now that is safe.”
In a response to the Oakland Post’s questions to the mayor, her office wrote:
“The council resolution did direct staff to follow up on a safe parking proposal, yet it did not allocate any funding for this program.”
“In order to efficiently initiate the program, Mayor Schaaf and City staff recommend that the Council re-allocate the $300,000 (in funding), which was set-aside in the mid-cycle budget for sanitation services, to a grant program for organizations that wish to utilize their parking lots for a safe parking program.”
ICAC is holding a community meeting Thursday, Sept. 13, noon to 2 p.m. at Williams Chapel Baptist Church, 1410 10th Ave. in Oakland.