Made possible by a funding initiative by San Francisco Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, a new homelessness prevention program is to be carried out in Oakland by three nonprofit partners: East Bay Community Law Center, Catholic Charities of the East Bay, and Bay Area Community Services.
“We here in Oakland want to keep Oaklanders here, securely housed,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “Almost one third of Bay Area residents are just one paycheck away from the risk of eviction, and that means a surprise medical bill, an unexpected car repair, anything can potentially put Bay Area residents at risk of losing their housing.”
The Keep Oakland Housed program will connect the services of three nonprofit partners to offer residents at risk of eviction emergency financial assistance, legal representation, and other services. It is available to all Oakland residents with an income at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income ($104,400), who are at risk of eviction.
“We are blessed to be able to work with a fabulous set of partners,” said the chief executive officer of The San Francisco Foundation, Fred Blackwell. “These are folks who have tentacles in the community, who have real constituency, who have been in the trenches, and on the front lines working on these issues for many, many years.”
The new program is designed as a preventative measure to stop the number of homeless Oaklanders from growing beyond the almost 3,900 officially counted in 2017. The City’s Tuff Shed program is a pilot program targeting those who have already lost their homes. At the Keep Oakland Housed press conference on Monday, several people expressed criticism of the current Tuff Shed program.
Steven DiCaprio, interim executive director of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, asked Mayor Schaaf to make a commitment to end the clearing of tent encampments near the Tuff Shed sites. The Tuff Shed “villages” only house 40 people per site, two per shed, and no camping rules are being enforced in areas nearby, despite the greater number of homeless people than Tuff Shed beds.
DiCaprio said this is a violation of Martin v. Boise, a recent court ruling that homeless people cannot be criminalized for sleeping outdoors on public property if there is no access to alternative shelter.
He raised the question of whether moving into the Tuff Shed villages is entirely voluntary for their residents, if they are being threatened with arrest or exile as the only alternatives.
Schaaf responded that she feels “very confident that what we are doing is not just humane, but it is fully within the confines of the law.”
City officials have said that 65 percent of people exiting the Tuff Shed program have entered into transitional or permanent housing. Schaaf said that transitional housing could include the Henry Robinson Rapid Rehousing Center, of which a second location is due to open by the end of the year, and did not have the breakdown of how many people exited the Tuff Sheds into permanent versus transitional housing.
Blackwell, of The San Francisco Foundation, told the Oakland Post he wasn’t surprised that the conference derailed into discussing the Tuff Sheds.
“It’s reflective of the complexity of this issue,” he said.