Residents in homeless encampments in Oakland complain that inefficient trash services and lack of access to toilets makes it impossible for them to live in a sanitary manner.
“I’ve never seen rats this big in my life,” said Nichole, who’s lived in a tent on Kirkham Street near West Oakland BART for five months. “They look like rat-squirrel hybrids.”
She said city officials refuse to provide a dumpster to her and the approximately 20 other residents at her encampment, so residents organize trash into piles for pick up. But the piles attract rodents and cause other problems.
Nichole’s experience is not unique. Homeless residents living near Wood Street and Raimondi Park in West Oakland, 23rd Street in downtown, and near the Home Depot in East Oakland all report that although they have asked for dumpsters, city officials instruct them to organize waste into piles.
“The trash goes everywhere once the wind starts blowing,” said Diablo, who’s lived in a tent by 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way for two years. When he and others who live near him bought a trashcan and put it on the street for trash pick-up, he reports city workers threw it away as it wasn’t city issued.
Toilet services vary from site to site. Larry Coke, who has been homeless for seven years and lives next to Raimondi Park, reports that within the last few weeks the city has finally provided him with portable toilets that are emptied and cleaned regularly.
But the several dozen people living in the nearby Wood Street encampment no longer use their portable toilets because they are overflowing with feces. A form on the door of one toilet shows it hasn’t been serviced in over a month.
Markaya S, who has lived in a tiny home she made near Home Depot in East Oakland for five years, reports that about 100 unhoused people live with her in The Community of Grace. But the city has only provided them with three portable toilets.
Although the city received $8.6 million in Homeless Emergency Aid Program funding last year, about $5 million went to Tuff Shed housing and RV parking sites.
However, many homeless people don’t want to move into those sites, and by the city’s own numbers they can only house a small portion of the homeless population.
Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas, Sheng Thao, Loren Taylor and Council President Rebecca Kaplan have allocated $400,000 in their Oakland Together budget for mobile showers, restrooms, storage, and trash removal for homeless. But the City Council does not directly control how those funds are managed.
City administrator Sabrina Landreth and Assistant City Administrator Joe DeVries manage how city funds are used for homeless services.
They have faced many challenges as homelessness continues to surge in Oakland and the city tries new approaches to deal with the problem. “It’s a work in progress,” said DeVries. “I don’t know of other cities that have supplied portable toilets in the way we have.”
DeVries says that residents have moved toilets to locations that make them impossible to service and that although the city has provided trash receptacles, individuals have moved them and/or used them for other purposes. He has also suggested more mental health funding from the county.
Many homeless people find that the help the city claims to offer is not helpful.
“Every other week we have to pack up all our stuff and leave, but they don’t clean sh*t,” said Richard Milton, who has lived in an encampment behind a Home Depot on the Emeryville/Oakland border since the mid-1990s.
Although the city pays for city workers to clean the site, they require Milton to move all of his belongings during the cleaning, which he finds burdensome.
“There is a difference of opinion in terms of how the city administration says they’re managing homeless encampments and the direct experience of homeless residents and their advocates,” said Councilmember Bas.