By Needa Bee
City Forced To Adopt Safe Havens Due To Success Of Militant Grassroots Efforts
Nine months after bulldozing The Village – a radical community effort to immediately provide shelters and services to Oakland’s homeless – the City Administration granted the movement a large parcel of land in East Oakland.
“We are happy that we have the support of city council and staff in City Hall. We are thrilled that the City Administration finally saw the light, and instead of continuing to fight us, found inspiration in our vision and model and is fleshing out their plan called the Safe Haven,” said one of The Village’s lead organizers Needa Bee. “We are happy that the City did the right thing. It was a long, frustrating and slow winding road. But we are happy we have reached the goal: for the City to accept that housing is a human right, that homelessness is not a crime and that everyone deserves a place to call home.”
In the middle of the night on January 20, 2017, under the cloak of the year’s largest rain storm and overshadowed by the inauguration of Donald Trump, a group of nearly 100 grassroots community activists seized Grove Shafter Park, aka Marcus Garvey Park, on the West Oakland/North Oakland border and began building homes and services for Oakland’s unhoused. Their action was a result of the City’s zero response to a homelessness and housing crisis that City Council had declared the previous year. With a zero dollar budget, in 13 days the movement grew into hundreds of volunteers who built 6 homes and offered dozens of services to anyone who needed them, including hot meals, health and wellness services, provisions, a bathroom and two hot showers. In less than two weeks 16 chronically homeless drug users were sheltered and off drugs.
The City responded by spending $75,000 taxpayer dollars to bulldoze the effort.
Since then, The Village, through the creation of the Homeless Advocacy Working Group – a body created out of the rubble of the bulldozers – has been tirelessly lobbying City Hall to pass the Shelter Crisis Ordinance, which would give The Village and other community groups public land to continue their work without harassment, and to get the City to come up with their own solutions. This past Tuesday, October 3rd, City Council passed the Shelter Crisis Ordinance and gave the green light for homeless encampments with shelters and services to be created on City-owned or managed lands. Yesterday the City Administration offered The Village a parcel of land in East Oakland located at East 12 and 23rd Ave.
“The level of egotism and resistance from the Administration has been ridiculous. But we are so happy that they are finally on the humanitarian page and accept that the shelters, closing down encampments, shuffling and criminalizing homeless just don’t work. Our efforts have helped shift the Administration’s approach to the crisis,” Bee said. “We have now opened the door for others in the community to step to the plate and throw down. Which is what needs to happen. We are going to need 100 different solutions and as many villages as possible to deal with this crisis. The homeless population is in the thousands and the 40 Tuff Sheds the City will provide in their safe havens and the 40 shelters we will provide in our first village will barely scratch the surface.”
The East Oakland Collective is a supporter of The Village and has been doing work in Deep East Oakland to serve the homeless community. The Village hopes they are next in line to receive public lands to implement their solutions to this crisis.
The Village plans to operate several sites in several neighborhoods using City, County and private lands they will lease to the community group. The Village is also planning to purchase lands to build both temporary and permanent housing. Each village will serve a particular demographic of the diverse unsheltered population. There will be a village for those in recovery, a harm reduction village, a site for families with children and elders who have been recently homeless due to gentrification, an LGBTQ community, a women’s location and an encampment for RVs and campers.
Unlike the City’s safe havens, The Village will build custom designed homes that are 12 feet high and 120 square feet in area for individuals. Larger dwellings will be built for families depending on their size. Sites will also include wrap around services, job training, employment opportunities for residents, 24 hour community security, sanitation services, a computer lab, art studio, health and wellness clinic, chicken coops and gardens. For the broader community, food services and provision distribution programs will also be offered.
The Village is completely run on donations and volunteers and is significantly less costly than the City’s $550,000 per encampment version. Bee said the support from the community, nonprofits, religious groups and the unhoused is vast.
“We started as a direct action, and when they bulldozed us we became a mighty movement. And now we are a membership based organization and alliance of many organizations,” said Bobby Qui, member and builder with The Village. “And now we are going to need all hands on deck. Winter is around the corner and the rains are coming. Let’s get folks off the sidewalks, into supportive environments towards self–sufficiency and ultimately into permanent housing.
If people want to learn how to plug in, they can follow them on their Facebook page The Village in Oakland #feedthepeople. Currently they are accepting gift cards to hardware and home improvement stores as well as donations of building materials.