By Brooke Trespe and Needa Bee
You are being played, Oakland. On the eve of the city’s photo op, the unveiling of the second Tuff Shed lot in Northgate, we are compelled to tell you the truth of how these sites are being used politically and what they are like on the inside.
When the people of Oakland moved the City Council to unanimously pass a Shelter Crisis Declaration Oct 3, 2017 that would immediately allow emergency temporary housing and services to be created as a pathway to permanent housing in the midst of this homeless state of emergency, using sanctioned sites as a pretext for area evictions and doubling people up in uninsulated tool sheds with no running water or electricity was not what we were talking about.
CITY SANCTIONED SITES = EVICTIONS
Each time the city has sanctioned a site for outdoor emergency use, an explicit part of their plans is to evict all other camps in the area. The “Compassionate Communities” at Peralta/35th, the tentative village site at 23rd&12th Ave, the first Tuffshed yard at 5th and Brush… All included explicit directives to OPD and DPW to evict all other camps in the area no matter how many people it would displace and put into motion. The first Tuffshed yard put over 100 people into motion while only providing slots for 40.
In this way, these are pilot programs more for camp suppression and eviction than providing entry to housing, herding our unhoused neighbors more out of sight away from services or driving them into a few now unsafe, filthy ‘mega-camps’ that these evictions are creating.
This second “ONC” (“Outdoor Navigation Center”) or Tuffshed yard is to be no different. The city has planned that all residents of camps in the Northgate area are to be evicted, easily three times the number of people that could possibly be admitted to the 40 person Tuffshed yard. The city claims that the St. Vincent DePaul shelter will take in the overflow. This is nonsense. The nearby center is already at capacity, is only a temp overnight shelter and has zero capacity to take in 80 more people and their belongings. If this were in any way a realistic option, those camping on the street nextdoor would already be utilizing it.
The city’s implementation of the Tuffshed yard will while opening up 40 slots for sleeping in sheds will also:
- Forcibly evict 100+ other unhoused neighbors.
- Push people further to the margins including into sprawling, unsafe ‘mega-camps’ such as the complex at 35th/Peralta.
- Destabilize and stress all the other camps across downtown and the west that will be taking in the displaced.
The city is still servicing appearances, creating photo ops for themselves and political cover for evictions more than facing the realities of our city and the homelessness crisis gripping it.
LIFE ON THE INSIDE OF A TUFFSHED CAMP
Increased policing, poor conditions, group punishments
A testimony from a recently evicted resident of the Tuff Shed site on 5th Street (see attached video https://www.facebook.com/731643677003021/videos/967948560039197/) exposes inhumane and substandard living conditions that the city has applauded and promised to replicate. The Tuff Sheds themselves, with a total lack of insulation and hardly any ventilation, are not satisfactory for human beings to live in to begin with. A tiny window is the only form of lighting, leaving disabled residents struggling to get around or see what they are doing.
Even more egregious is the behavior of Operation Dignity, a so-called outreach organization the city is paying nearly half a million dollars of funding to staff the site (that funding was lobbied by Oakland residents to originally be set aside for increasing services for unsheltered residents across Oakland). Operation Dignity runs the site through coercion, bullying and neglecting the residents, and especially the disabled and mentally ill. Residents report that the staff has used their power to force cooperation by withholding food, water and electricity as forms of collective punishment.
When resident Gary Nash confronted a staff member and threatened to report his grievances, he was met with violence and was ultimately evicted for defending himself. Now, his elderly disabled mother Robyin Clark is being evicted as well for allowing her son to visit her on site. Robyin, a long time unhoused community member who was seen as the nurturer and protector of the area, has been tirelessly advocating for others on site and worries about the mismanagement and abuse of power that will inevitably increase now that she has been forced to vacate. Knowing that Robyin is fighting cancer, the city has only offered her a short, temporary stay in a hotel for five days, suggesting she try a temporary homeless shelter without any further assistance, aid or hospice.
Residents report that when the generator meant to provide electricity is powered, it is only from 9:00 pm until 1:00 pm, leaving them without power throughout the day. Robyin, who suffers from COPD and cancer, has been unable to charge and run the equipment she desperately needs to stay alive. In an attempt to self-organize and reclaim agency, some residents have tried to bring in their own generators, which have been prohibited due to safety concerns while the city’s generator sits atop a gasoline soaked rug and wooden platform. Donors even offered to provide the encampment with $70,000 worth of solar panels to provide energy for all the tuff sheds, an offer that was refused for the encampment and used only for the staff office. The office also implements signal blocking technology to prevent residents from accessing the WiFi.
SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
On the other end of the spectrum, The Village attempts to work with our unhoused community members rather than around them, pioneering a holistic approach towards permanent housing that starts with creating interim housing and services centering the needs, experiences, ideas and voices of the unsheltered community. We recently learned that what little land was granted to us in October 2017 for our efforts is going to be taken from us in a few months, reinforcing our belief that a local government that profits off of the housing crisis will be unwilling to alleviate it.
We demand that the city invest into community driven interim solutions such as The Village and stop wasting the public’s precious resources on failed debacles such as the Tuff Shed encampments.
We demand that the City stop sabotaging the Village and other community efforts. All negotiations have stopped on their end not only in regard to finding a site that meets the criteria for a viable village but also in regard to permitting our portable shower/toilet bus which is waiting to be put into service. All the city has committed to is to bulldozing the site at 23rd St./12th Ave which never met the criteria and which was turned into an unsafe mega-camp by their regime of area evictions.
We demand a full moratorium on camp evictions.
We demand that the inhumane management change at the Tuffshed yards or be turned over to the Village or other community groups that are capable of working with the unhoused rather than against them.