Village in Oakland is a grassroots, volunteer-run organization led by unhoused, housing insecure and formally unhoused folks, and supported by a broad network of housed volunteers. We strive to improve our people’s quality of life thru direct services and support; education and arts; leadership development; and opportunities for policy and media advocacy to unhoused folks in Oakland and the Greater Bay Area.
Our Past, Our Present, Our Future
In December 2016, Feed The People and Asians for Black Lives joined forces to launch a direct action that didn’t have a name: take over an abandoned and neglected City of Oakland park, build emergency “tiny home” shelters, and provide on-site services and programs for unhoused Oaklanders. The point was to shake up the government to do SOMETHING about the growing unhoused crisis. We only anticipated to exist for the weekend.
We were there for two weeks.
In the darkest hours of the morning of January 20, 2017 – while the rest of the country prepared for the inauguration of Donald Trump – we took to the streets. A wild torrential rainstorm came to help make us invisible in the dark, as we reclaimed the very neglected Marcus Garvey Park. By noon, a blessing and land acknowledgement to the Ohlone had happened, five residents were moved in, three tiny home frames had been built, the first versions of the kitchen and the free store were up.
Over the weekend we picked up the trash, needles and dog shit. We cleared the sewage system so that the park didn’t flood when rain came. We watered the neglected plants on the park’s borders and gave them a trim. The three houses were finished and more houses were started. Everyone ate good. Folks looked out and took care of each other. Folks dreamed big and talked about solutions to homelessness and ending gentrification. And we connected the dots to all the other issues impacts Oakland’s BIPOC communities – inadequate public education, police terror, violence, lack of jobs, lack of opportunities, intergenerational trauma, the prison system, racism. People started calling our direct action “The Village”. The name stuck.
Thirteen people who were either living in tents on the block, or from the now internationally known Wood Street community, or the now disappeared Emeryville Home Depot unhoused community relocated to the park looking for safety, support, and a chance at a life clean and sober. We set-up the clean and sober commuity for residents, but services were for anyone in need regardless if they lived there, if they were homeless, or if they were clean and sober.
As the weekend turned into a week, an info/welcome tent; kitchen; free store; medical clinic; container garden; living room; solar shower and portapotty went up. There was a general assembly every day at 5pm for any and all who wanted to talk gentrification, homelessness and solutions.
By the end of the two weeks more than 130 people signed up to live there. Hundreds more came to use the services. The general assembly is where the unhoused leadership emerged from. When the city spent $75,000 to violently bulldoze our labor of love and justice, we had a committee working on a chicken coup and and another building solar shower number two.
“They tried to bury us, but we are seeds…”
The expensive eviction didn’t destroy and erase us. The unnecessary violence from the city, only made us stronger and galvanized a movement.
The Village has evolved to become one of the leading homeless advocacy groups in Oakland – pushing for local and regional government to adopt policies, practices and interventions that are humane, effective and dignified. We continue to build tiny homes and tiny home villages with on-site services. And our work has grown into 11 programs and direct services for our people.
Today, Feed The People is the foundational service of The Village in Oakland. The weekly visits Feed the People makes to curbside communities, the relationships built, and the voices and leadership of those living in the streets is what informs every service, program and campaign The Village in Oakland creates.
Through it all, The City of Oakland (particularly the Mayor Libby Schaaf and her Administration and Oakland Police Department) have used their power and privilege to sabotage our efforts, refuse to support us, brutalize our leaders with police terror – including arrest, publicly defamed the character of our leadership, used hundreds of millions of public funds and private dollars without a budget or the proper staffing to co-opt our interventions. The latest policy that was voted in by Oakland City Council in Fall 2020 is the New Encampment Management Policy.
The Change We Want To See
We want to homelessness to be decriminalized. We believe homelessness is not a crime. The crime is a society that allows for homelessness to exist.
We want all members of our community to have access to basic life sustaining needs. Clean water, healthy food, safety, adequate health care, adequate education, living wage job – all these are basic needs everyone has the right to have access. Unfortunately thse basic life sustaining needs have become privileges and commodities and are are not within grasp for too many of our people in Oakland. Rich or poor, housed or unhoused we all should not be denied these fundamental elements of being abe to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
We want housing for all. We believe housing is a human need and human right, and that even the poorest of the poor must have access to housing. We believe it is the job of government to use public funds and resources to ensure this housing affodabity crisis and homeless state of emergency is solved with dignity, respect, compassion and leadership from unhoused residents. If public officials fail to succeed in meeting this need and protecting this right, we believe that people have the right to assert and obtain it for themselves.
- We want immediate, adequate, and dignified emergency housing with appropriate services that meets the specific needs of Oakland’s diverse unhoused communities.
- We want and end to for-profit developers stealing, hoarding and flipping houses in our neighorhoods. While they sit on thousands of empty residential units waiting for the real estate market to balloon, we estimate at least 10,000 Oaklanders are unhoused.
- We want all new permenent housing development to be 80% deeply affordable housing. For the past 21 years, gentrification has been the driving agenda that continues to create homelessness. So we want an end to building housing, retail, beer gardens for wealth people who are not yet living in Oakland. We want development that will end homelessness, prevent homelessness, improve the quality of live of the flatland’s working class and poor for generations to come.
- We want to see more working class BIPOC families pool their monies together and join existing community land trusts or start their own land trust.
- We want Intergeneration Home Improvement and Property Tax Relief Grants for Oakland’s BIPOC multi-generational family homes so they can avoid blight, pay back taxes, help with repairs as a way to prevent homelessness. We want to see BIPOC communities world-wide protect/maintain/reclaim/create cooperative and collective stewardship of land and land use.
We want training and jobs for Oakland’s working class and poor in these foodie, techie and hub industries. So much money and opportunity has been coming into Oakland for more than 20 years, and more is coming. This influx of resources is not reaching and benefiting Oakland’s Indigenous residents,or the Black and POC working class community that has been here since the early 1900s.
We want the people who are making decisions with the public’s money and resources to invest, rejuvenate, and develop Oakland’s BIPOC working class and poor communities. For decades Oakland’s Black community and other Indigenous and POC communities have been demanding and struggle to obtain access to a strong, healthy, safe, abundunt, stable, unified future. Prior to gentrification we were neglected and underfunded. Under more than 20 years of gentrification our innovative, creative, brilliant, hard-working PIBOC communitions continued to be denied access to this incoming flow of income streams, opportunities, spaces, housing and recreation. The age of gentrification needs to come to an end, and the era of equitable development needs to begin.