Oakland org seeks to aid pregnant residents after encampment closure
A recent closure of a homeless encampment near the intersection of MacArthur blvd. and 106th ave. has prompted Homies Empowerment, an East Oakland based grassroots organization, to call attention to and organize for improving the living conditions of two displaced pregnant women.
“We’re looking for a house to rent for them now,” said Reverend Harry Louis Williams II, an activist, author, and hip-hop artist who works as a Care Manager with Homies Empowerment. “Our long term goal for these women is to get them into an affordable place to live. We don’t want their children to be like baby Jesus in the manger.”
After the closure, Homies Empowerment put the two women up in a hotel room. They want help from the community to house them and are encouraging those who have the means to offer aid to contact the organization.
“Sometimes people say things are bad and I wish I could do something,” said Williams. “Well this is a way to do something. This is urgent and we’re not sitting around and waiting for a grant.”
According to residents and advocates present during the closure on April 7, city public works staff and Oakland Police Department officers arrived around 9 am, asked residents to leave, and did not offer alternative shelter options. OPD confirmed one officer and two public service technicians were present. In the days before the closure, about 20 residents had lived in the area, mostly in RVs and trailers. The city posted pink signs informing residents of the closure several days before it occurred. While most residents left the encampment, a few remained.
Two of those who remained were Teela Hardy and Tanya Andrade. Hardy had been working as a receptionist for a law firm but became homeless after she got laid off. Andrade said she was let go from her service industry job soon after she became pregnant. While she says she technically has access to her former home, it’s uninhabitable.
“I can’t stand my house because it’s full of mold,” said Andrade. “Living there is unsafe because I’m pregnant and I have asthma.”
Both Hardy and Andrade are about 7 months pregnant and had lived in RVs that no longer run but still provided them with shelter. In the days leading up to the closure, it was difficult to move their inoperable RVs and they did not expect the city to follow through with the operation.
“They gave us a warning,” said Hardy. “But they’ve given us warnings before and not gone through with their word.”
According to Hardy, the city of Oakland had posted signs three separate times this year telling residents they planned to close the encampment at specific dates, but those dates came and passed without any closure enforcement. This reporter emailed Oakland’s director of communications multiple times over three days seeking comments on this story. Although they acknowledged receiving questions, the city ultimately did not provide comments before this story’s deadline.
Hardy and Andrade were able to keep their RVs after friends helped tow them to another location, but the women said they lost other possessions during the closure. Hardy said the most important thing she lost was her car she had been using to do odd jobs and run errands, including getting to doctor’s appointments. According to Hardy, it was impounded because, although she had been trying to get it registered, she hadn’t yet been able to do so.
“After staff checked vehicle registration, ownership, and were preparing for tow, Ms. Hardy approached staff stating the vehicle was hers and that it was used for storage. OPD staff advised Hardy the vehicle was not registered to her, and since it was parked in a “no parking” zone with expired registration they would have to tow.”
“It’s just hard,” Hardy said. “They didn’t give me a bus pass or anything and I know I’m not going to be able to do the things I need to do in the amount of time I need to do them now that I don’t have a car.”
The Oakland Police Department confirmed they towed a vehicle from the location and provided a statement to this reporter.
“After staff checked vehicle registration, ownership, and were preparing for tow, Ms. Hardy approached staff stating the vehicle was hers and that it was used for storage,” OPD’s media team wrote in an email. “OPD staff advised Hardy the vehicle was not registered to her, and since it was parked in a “no parking” zone with expired registration they would have to tow.”
OPD’s media team also wrote that they have Hardy time to retrieve belongings stored in the car.
According to Williams of Homies Empowerment, the organization became aware of the closure because they have recently started renting land from the city that sits at 10451 MacArthur Boulevard, which is next to where the encampment had been. Hardy said the organization had allowed her to use the land for her dogs to play in and that she and Andrade, in turn, had helped to clean up the parcel. Homies Empowerment plans to use the land to set up a small community farm.
A statement on Homies Empowerment’s website says the organization “works alongside our community towards a world absent of whiteness, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy.” The organization started about twelve years ago to help quell gang violence and also address the city proposing gang injunctions, which Homies Empowerment saw as harmful. They started a program called Loaves and Fishes during the pandemic, which is still in operation, that feeds East Oakland residents, including people experiencing homelessness. Williams says the organization offers “solidarity not charity.”
“We shared with the people in the encampment,” Williams said. “They became family. They were welcomed to eat with us.” The encampment closure “shocked and dismayed” members of Homies Empowerment and left them “disheartened.”
Hardy and Andrade said they suspected the city enforced the closure due to the encampment becoming messy. They also said the city provided no toilets, rarely offered trash pick up services, and that housed private citizens and businesses would dump trash in their encampment instead of disposing of their trash properly.
Williams feels the city is doing “all kinds of things to displace people,” while “people just want to live.” While the city slowed down closures of homeless encampments immediately following the initial COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, by 2021 encampment closures returned with over four occurring per month between January and August of that year. In 2022, several closures have been occurring per week. Recently, Council Member Noel Gallo proposed an ordinance to the city’s public works committee that would explicitly ban RVs and trailers from streets that are 40 feet wide or narrower. The committee is scheduled to consider the ordinance on May 24. If the ordinance is put to vote and approved by Oakland’s city council under its current language, it would ban people from living in RVs on about 79% of Oakland’s streets.
“I love Oakland,” said Williams. “But I think Oakland could do more to show loving care to people who are experiencing these problems.”
Homies Empowerment currently sees Oakland’s community as the best avenue to help Hardy and Andrade.
“I am hopeful,” said Williams. “There’s a lot of fire in Oakland’s belly from just regular working people who are saying we want to feed and house people. I think enough people just need to come together and change will come.”
Notes: A similar version of this story will be published soon by The Post News Group.