Opinion: Homeless Advocates Criticize Mayor’s Tuff Sheds 


The following op-ed was written by members of the Homeless Advocacy Working Group, James Vann and John Kirkmire, who criticize Mayor Libby’s plan to build install Tuff Sheds in Oakland in response to the homelessness crisis:

In a meeting, the Homeless Advocacy Working (HAWG) told Mayor Libby Schaaf that Tuff Shed villages were not a worthy approach and would not be among HAWG’s menu of solutions.

The Tuff Sheds, however, have been good for Mayor Schaaf’s image.  They give the outward un-scrutinized appearance of accomplishment, of something positive being done—despite their less than “drop in the bucket” impact on the real and escalating crisis.

The economics of Tuff Shed villages are actually worse than they appear..  The first Tuff Sheds village exceeded the amount budgeted.  A total of $1.2 million over two years was authorized: including $300K/yr.  for management and $200K/yr. for housing placement, which increased in year two, plus an additional  $25K flex fund.

The remaining $200K went to fencing, security guards, insulation, and better door locks.  The delivered price of the initial 8 X 10ft Tuff Shed units was $3,300 each, which the city had no funds for and got the Alta Bates foundation to pay for as donations.


The Public Works budget was unchanged, and none of the additional costs of water, sanitation, and trash removal are included in the homeless budget.

The 8 X 15ft Northgate Tuff Sheds (for which there is nothing in the budget) cost significantly more, and the sheds themselves were donated by Kaiser Foundation.

Pyatok Architects donated site design, construction of ramps and porches, and painting of the sheds.

Members of HAWG say that few residents are pleased with their residency, have complained bitterly about the initial management consultant, and per The Village manager, about seven of 10 return to the streets when their tenure terminates after six months.

The “Point-in-Time” count of unsheltered persons was 2,791 in Jan. 2017, a 26 percent increase in just two years since the 2015 count.  HAWG estimates that the actual count is closer to 6,000, since people living in vehicles, couch-surfing, or camped in unusual places were not counted.

It is difficult to conclude that the city can be complimented for its job in treating its homelessness epidemic.

Passing by the Northgate Tuff Shed site, there seemed be a vast improvement over the out-of- control homeless encampments that overwhelmed the intersection at Northgate and 27th a few months ago.

The area is clean and orderly, and the green Tuff Sheds look way better than makeshift tents. It seemed to me the city, along with private donors, had found a useful path to address homelessness.

While the site is useful as a Navigation Center to help expedite available social services and hopefully process the homeless toward permanent housing, this ‘safe’ site can also be viewed as a controlled incarceration of the homeless, removing them from around the area and clustering them together where they need to sign in and out at a singular entry/exit point of the gated and barbed wire enclosure.

Each of the 20 units has two occupants assigned to it who then share a claustrophobic 15×8-foot space. There is NO running water on site. Screeching BART trains and endless noise of the overhead freeway make the site that much more symbolic of an uncaring community.

After touring inside Northgate, I have concluded that Tuff Sheds, now known as Cabins (an Orwellian name for tool sheds), are inhumane, undignified and a terrible way to treat the disenfranchised who have come to expect nothing but grief from a gentrified society.

To all the many well-intentioned people involved in this project, if any of us had to spend a full day/night on site, tool shed villages such as this would never have been created. It is reflection of the disrespect we have for the homeless.

There are about 7,000 housing units (currently) under construction in Oakland, but not one is directly focused on addressing the affordability issue. It is estimated there are 2500+ homeless people in Oakland.

Tuff Shed Sites are designed to assist only 40 people at a time. There are not enough statistics of successful transitioning to permanent housing to prove that these sites are worth their $1 million price tag for a year.


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