Oakland’s third Tuff Shed village has been installed south of Lake Merritt, across the street from Laney College, just next to the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. It will hold 40 people in its 20 sheds. Each shed is equipped with two beds and a center divider for privacy.
The newest Tuff Shed village is expected to house those living in encampments around the lake, which are being cleared in the coming weeks. A recent census by nonprofit Operation Dignity found that 65 homeless individuals were living around the lake. The City acknowledges that not everyone will be able to fit into the Tuff Shed site, yet as the sheds are erected, the City plans to enforce ‘no camping’ rules in the area.
“We don’t consider these houses. We consider this moving from a tent to a bed, and then the next step is to move from a bed to real housing,” said Joe Devries, an assistant city administrator. To date, 41 people who have moved into the first two Tuff Shed sites have moved on to transitional and permanent housing, 23 have found jobs, and all have received access to social services and healthcare assistance, according to a Sept. 27 email update from Councilmember Abel Guillén.
All three Tuff Shed villages—one at 27th and Northgate, another at Sixth and Castro—have minimal ground rules, like no weapons, verbal or physical abuse, open fires, theft, drug-dealing or using drugs on the premises. Residents can come and go as they please, but must sign in and out, and they may not access storage sheds without staff permission. Guests are allowed, but may not stay overnight.
The sites offer portable toilets, a case worker on site, and storage nearby for people’s belongings. Through a partnership with nonprofit Lava Mae, a free weekly shower service will visit the sites. Yet many homeless people and advocates are resistant to the project, especially the clearing of existing tent encampments.
City officials say that tent encampments have caused over $500,000 in damages to a wetland restoration area, and that one camper’s fire nearly burned down the Rotary Nature Center on the north shore of the lake. “Our unsheltered residents deserve our support and compassion, but so do children who rely on the Junior Center of Art and Science (and) families who rely on Lake Merritt as the place to find refuge and connection with nature,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
But some homeless advocates, like Nino Parker, founder of Homeless Green Team, are skeptical that the Tuff Sheds are in the best interest of the city’s unhoused population. “If you have nowhere to put someone, then your vehicle to remove them ends, because at that point, you’re just pushing people around the streets,” he told the East Bay Express in September.
Parker is homeless, and he has organized several encampments to keep their areas clean, through the Homeless Green Team project. He also organized to protest the closure of lake campsites at a rally on Sept. 11, the same day as a meeting of Oakland’s Life Enrichment Committee addressing the Tuff Sheds. Sixteen people from the public spoke about the Tuff Shed project, several were critical of the project.
“We want to see long-term solutions,” said Nikki Fortunato-Bas, a candidate for Oakland City Council, District 2. She asked for more input from the community before the council’s vote. “There was a rally this afternoon…You all have to listen to our homeless neighbors to hear what they want.”
Oakland resident Oscar Puentes said the project should be a solution to homelessness, but is being used “as an excuse to kick out people who have already dealt with the fact that Oakland can’t provide them affordable housing.”