Homeless Need Trash Removal and Toilet Services

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The city of Oakland requires Richard Milton, who’s lived in an encampment behind Home Depot since the mid-1990s, to vacate with all his belongings for bi-monthly cleanups. But Milton finds vacating burdensome and says workers don’t clean much.

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.

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