Overwelmed by the growing homeless crisis, a mother and daughter gathered friends and family with one simple mission – to show love on the streets. January 2016 Needa Bee and Joyous began a night of service that quickly avalanched into the People’s Response to the housing & homeless crisis.
#TheVillage first popped up at Marcus Garvey Park on 36th Street and MLK in Oakland. On the morning of Saturday, January 21, 2017, a network of Oakland community members -both housed and unhoused -took over the neglected public plot in West Oakland. We intended to move in small homes, a hot shower, a healing clinic, and other services—declaring it a people’s encampment for those who need housing and basic needs and services. The group which included folks living on Oakland streets, activists from #FeedthePeople
, and various individuals and organizations from the community, said that the move-in demonstrated their ability to provide what the City of Oakland would not provide to its most vulnerable residents.
We aimed to demonstrate through our visionary encampment that housing is a human right. We also hoped to show that, in the face of a city government that fails to meet the needs of its people, it is possible for the community to unite to serve those on the street in a dignified and humane manner. We challenged the inaction of the City of Oakland, saying that the City has proven not been to be loyal to its long term families displaced in this city-initiated housing crisis. We broadcasted that the City has not implemented sufficient efforts to address homelessness, such as building permanent public housing, starting with housing for those who have been displaced by the housing crisis, particularly Black and Brown people.
The Village action was also inspired by Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s call to #BeUngovernable
and to “build and fight” to resist the illegitimate government, most recently manifested by Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States. Our action took place a day after hundreds of thousands of people across the country took to the streets and declared their cities to be zones free from displacement, mass deportations, registries, attacks on poor people, and corporate giveaways of public goods. Instead, they called for protection and expansion of healthcare, housing, food, and free public education for all. “Today we stand in solidarity with the poor, houseless, and displaced people of Oakland, many of whom are Black and Brown. As #Asians4BlackLives
, we realize that gentrification, inaccessible housing, and privatized public land are a part of the ongoing war on Black people, which also includes racist police violence. We support the leadership of the homeless folks moving into this camp, and stand together with them in the fight for dignity and the fight against displacement,” said Ellen Choy of #Asians4BlackLives
So while the country braced itself for the inauguration of the facist cheeto, The Village began moving onto the public land at MLK and 36th street in the middle of the night during the largest storm of the season, and set up the frames for the first three homes.
The center of the Village became a community space reserved for daily people’s assemblies and provided services to the residents and the broader community in need. Volunteers started a health & healing clinic, hot home cooked meal service, 2 hot showers, raised gardens, a computer lab, adult education center, and a center for distributing donations to Oakland residents in need. The village was open to all who need services provided whether you live at the site or not.
News of the encampment spread like wildfire throughout Oakland’s homeless community who dubbed it “The Promise Land”. Folks said that unlike The City and non-profits, The Village made promises they kept.
The Village aka Promised Land was narcotics and alcohol-free, and prioritized housing for Black and Brown folks, families, women, elders, and disabled folks. The encampment hoped to keep growing to be able to welcome more to be inclusive for anyone homeless residents in Oakland to move in, and to offer the appropriate services to meet their needs. Organizers also hoped that their version of what a compassionate community looks like would inspire others to reclaim public land in other parts of Oakland, and The Bay Area, and the country, to build similar havens of safety, service, and community. 137 homeless residents signed up to get shelter and services at The Village and hoped to get the support they needed to get off drugs and alcohol.
However, in the early morning of February 2, 2017 Mayor Libby Schaff and her Administration sent a bulldozer and 80 pigs in riot gear to raid and bulldoze The Village. But the Mayor’s violent action and criminalization of Oakland’s humanitarian efforts merely turned our direct action into a powerful movement
The Village is starting off with building temporary emergency shelters in response to the epidemic of homelessness that has erupted in Oakland. We seek to address the immediate needs and harm reduction of some of the City of Oakland’s more than 6,000 homeless residents. Oakland’s homeless population makes up 49.2% of all of Alameda County’s houseless. Homeless numbers are growing as a direct outcome of the city’s housing affordability crisis. The housing market in Oakland has skyrocketed, and a vast majority of landlords no longer accept Section 8 vouchers. Many of Oakland’s homeless residents have vouchers for Section 8 housing, but cannot find a rental agency that will accept the public housing program. Currently, there are only 386 beds available in Oakland shelters.
However, the only permanent solution is permanent housing for Oakland’s no income, low income and working-class residents. We have repeatedly demanded that the City of Oakland use their resources, their networks and their power to commit, execute and build permanent working class, low income and no income housing. But they are only concerned with developing housing for middle class and high-income residents who do not live here yet.
The Village is also committed to using whats left of public housing to creating permanent homes. We also believe in working with the families of Oakland who haven’t been able to pay taxes on their grandmother’s or mother’s property. We believe Community should come together and help family’s save famiies’ properties before the government seizes and flips it for private development. And in return, families should use their unused properties to help house the homeless.
And to prevent homelessness we are also creating job training and employment opportunities that graduate into worker owned collectives, a job hiring platform and job placement opportunities. There has been an influx of thousands of living wage jobs flooding Oakland. But many of us do not have access to these jobs. In order to prevent homelessness in this ever increasing cost of living, we also need competitive paying jobs that allow us to keep roofs over our heads.
Housing is a human right. Being without a home is not a crime. The politicians that created this crisis are the criminals. Yet folks without shelters have been ignored, harassed, shuffled around, degraded, and criminalized. The responses from city officials, CalTrans, and police has not only been ineffective, but degrading and even criminal, Institutions like CalTrans continually violate homeless communities’ constitutional rights with their protocol towards folks living under freeways. They seize and destroy people’s property without due process, and as a cruel and unusual punishment for circumstances that are treated as a criminal.
Activists and residents hope to unite communities that face displacement, destruction, terror, poverty, and violence. We as housed and unhoused Oaklanders stand together in the fight for housing for all,promote self-determination in the face of an illegitimate government. And we dont stop. We are currently building our first village since Oakland City Council reinstated the Shelter Crisis Declaration and gave us the power to create villages and other forms of unhoused encampments in October 2017. Located in East Oakland at 23rd ave and East 12th street, we will build dozens of homes and services on site. We have four additional Villages slated to start up this January 2018 as well. If you are housed or unhoused and want to join our efforts to address, alleviate and ultimately end the systemic crisis of homelessness hollar!