City Announces Partial Clearance in Unhoused North Oakland Community Set for Thursday
On August 21, The City of Oakland posted notices announcing plans set for this Thursday that direct some unhoused Oakland residents who live just north of Mosswood Park to clear from their current location.
The clearance is set to affect about 15 unhoused residents who live along Manila Avenue and between 38th and 40th Streets near the Temescal neighborhood of North Oakland. Current plans would force some residents to move but would still allow them to live on Manila Avenue, forcing all unhoused residents in the area to live closer to each other.
People started living on the street in the location in February after the City of Oakland evicted unhoused residents from Mosswood Park. Although Kaiser Permanente donated funds to the city to offer evicted residents shelter, many residents felt that shelter offered was not allocated fairly claiming while some people were offered hotel rooms, others were offered space in the city’s Tuff Shed Program, and others were ignored.
Kat Wadsworth* initially moved to Mosswood Park to flee abuse from a partner. Then she moved to Manila Avenue after the eviction. She said during the eviction the non-profit who arranged shelter allocation for the city, Operation Dignity, was hesitant to reach out to “the ones of us that had been there for a long time and were kind of rougher around the edges.”
Wadsworth said the people who got first pick at shelter were people that appeared cleaner and were “really new to being on the street,” while those who were “not embarrassed to be a little dirty” got last pick or were ignored.
Wadsworth was offered space in the Tuff Shed Program but did not feel safe being in a small space with a roommate she did not know, which the program would have required her to do. She wanted a hotel room at the time but was not offered one. So she, along with a handful of others, moved just north of Mosswood Park to Manila Avenue. Since then, one of the former Mosswood residents has died and a few have moved away. Five remain and unhoused residents from other parts of town have also moved into the area.
The plan to relocate Wadsworth and other nearby residents was directed by City Administrators appointed by Mayor Libby Schaaf. Their plans could violate a resolution written by Council President Rebecca Kaplan and passed unanimously by City Council on March 27. The resolution requests the City Administration to follow Center of Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for responding to COVID-19.
“Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19,” reads the resolution.
The resolution further specifies that causing people to leave their fixed location during the pandemic “increases potential for infectious disease spread” and also requests that the City Administration “encourage people staying in encampments to set up their tents/sleeping quarters with at least 12 feet X 12 feet of space per individual.”
In an emailed response to my questions, Kaplan said she thought the March 27 resolution as well another resolution Council passed on April 17 of 2018, provide “for more effective strategies around homelessness.”
“The strategy, that the Mayor has been pushing for, of just pushing people around with no strategy of where they should go, is very expensive, uses huge amounts of police time and other public resources, and fails to solve the problems,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan also questioned whether or not City Administration has “the power to override Council direction,” and further asked “if so, by whose authority?”
Oakland’s Homeless Policy Director Peter Radu, as well as Justin Berton, a spokesperson for Mayor Schaaf, did not respond to questions asking if the City intended to follow Council’s resolution encouraging them to follow CDC guidelines.
The plan to clear the unhoused residents comes after some housed residents who live in the area created an online petition which called on Mayor Schaaf, Council Member Dan Kalb, and the non-profit Operation Dignity to relocate residents. The petition specifically pointed out that some residents were staying outside of an abandoned factory which has toxic chemicals inside and expressed worry about fire hazards. California’s State Water Resources Control Board classified the site as a clean up program site in 1993.
An email from Deidra Moss, who works as Kalb’s Constituent Liaison, claims Kalb is working with the city to demolish the building.
“Councilmember Kalb has worked with city staff to get an encroachment permit for the owner of 3920 Manila Ave,” reads the email, which Moss sent on Aug 17 to a person who made an OAK 311 Report and lives near the abandoned factory and the unhoused residents.
“This is just the first step in getting to the demolition of that property,” Moss also wrote in the email.
When questioned, Kalb claimed he did not seek the encroachment permit.
“The encroachment permit for 3820 Manila Ave was not sought by my office,” Kalb wrote in an email. “The owner of the building applied for the encroachment permit (for a fence) and demolition permit(s) so that he could proceed with the demolition.”
Although Kalb did not personally seek the permit, he said he reached out to City staff about the it. He claimed concern for fire hazards and referenced a fire that occurred in the area on July 8th. He pointed out that in addition to an abandoned factory, a lumber yard sits on 40th Street and Manilla Avenue.
“My office reached out to city staff about the encroachment permit because I feel that the property being in proximity with an encampment that has already experienced one fire poses a real risk of a devastating fire, and we were lucky that the July 8th fire did not spread to this property,” Kalb wrote.
The City’s stated plans demand that those living outside the building move. Residents in that location live in tents or self-made structures. Across the street from them, those living in RVs found orange tags on their vehicles on Aug 24 demanding they move their vehicles in 72 hours.
“If the vehicle cannot be driven, please arrange for it to be towed,” reads the tag. “If it is not removed, it will be towed to a garage by the police and stored at the owner’s expense.”
Those residents just north of the abandoned factory got notices saying that the City is planning a deep cleaning on Thursday but were not informed that they would have to permanently leave their current location.
Local advocates for unhoused residents are questioning the timing and intention of the planned clearance and demolition especially as Oakland’s air quality index has shifted unpredictably recently due to smoke from wildfires throughout California, at extended times reaching particulate matter concentrations classified as unhealthy by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s unacceptable to be making people move at all when there’s a global pandemic and Oakland is in the middle of an air quality emergency” said Talya Husbands-Hankin, of Love and Justice in the Streets, a volunteer run unhoused advocacy organization.
Needa Bee of The Village in Oakland, a group of unhoused residents and advocates for unhoused resident’s rights, said “We have two health emergencies happening. We have the air quality emergency and the pandemic. This does not seem like a sound, medically informed decision.”
Radu and Berton did not respond to direct questions about whether the clearance plans would be delayed due to the air quality.
One unhoused resident, who lives in the area and asked not to be named,* said the smoke was the least of his worries and that he was more concerned with other daily problems involving the instability of not having a home. He expressed skepticism that the city would follow through on its plans on Thursday and regretted doing work to move his belongings that might end up being useless.
As it stands at press time, the operation has not been cancelled.
The United Front Against Displacement, a mutual aid and protest group who advocates for housing justice, have called for residents to show up to document and support unhoused residents during the operation. So has District 5 candidate Zoe Lopez-Meraz.
“I’ll be there on Thursday to make sure that the city does not violate people’s rights or harm or further traumatize people,” said Bee.
I intend to publish a follow up story to this article on Thursday.
*Kat Wadsworth is a pseudonym. Both unhoused residents in this article asked not to be named because they feared being exposed as homeless could hinder their chances of securing housing or employment in the future.
A slightly different version of this story appears on the Post News Group Website.