Vann: “Mayor Schaaf has never taken the homeless issue seriously.”
Schaaf finally says, “We now need to act with a sense of urgency”
The number of homeless people in Oakland has grown by 47 percent in the past two years, faster than in San Francisco and Berkeley, according to a county survey released this week.
Following federal guidelines, officials organized volunteers who conducted a one-day, “point-in-time” count, which found 4,071 homeless people in Oakland living in vehicles, on the street or in shelters, compared with 2,761 in 2017 and 2,191 people in 2015.
Of those counted, 861 were living in shelters, and 3,210 were unsheltered.
The homeless rate in Oakland has reached 940 per 100,000 residents, compared with San Francisco’s rate of 906 and Berkeley’s rate of 898.
“Of course, it is disappointing … that we’ve had the highest increase, at least in the Bay Area,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in an interview with the S.F. Chronicle. “It shows that we need to do things differently, and we need to act with a sense of urgency that is greater than anything we’ve done in the past.”
“These increases are not unique to Oakland, they’re throughout this county, they’re throughout this state and throughout the entire West Coast,” she said in an interview on KPIX Channel 5. Nearby counties need to look at this crisis as “an all hands on deck situation,” she said.
According to the survey, 47 percent of Alameda County’s homeless are African American, while African Americans only make up 11 percent of the county’s population. Thirty percent of the county’s homeless are white, while 17 percent are Latino.
The survey also found that 57 percent of the homeless in Alameda County have lived in the county for 10 years or more. Forty percent said they are natives, while 12 percent said they moved to the area in the past year.
Thirty-four percent of the county’s homeless residents live in tents, and 23 percent live in vehicles.
The results of this new survey do not come as a surprise to the people who are working on the ground working with the homeless and advocating the solutions to the crisis.
“It didn’t come as a shock to us,” said James Vann of the Oakland-based Homeless Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) in an interview with the Oakland Post. “There were about 70 homeless encampments, and now it’s between 90 and 100 encampments, and each of those encampments has grown.”
Criticizing the Mayor Schaaf’s policies, Vann said, “This report should not have been a shock. The reason it’s a shock is that (Mayor Schaaf) never took the homeless issue seriously.” Last year, the city only added $1.5 million to the budget for homelessness, “which only pays the administrative costs for one and half of the Tuff Shed villages,” he said.
Seeing some hope on the horizon, he said that that $10 million or more may be coming into Oakland due to initiatives of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Additionally, new money for homeless programs will begin entering city coffers late next year as result of Measure W, a tax on vacant properties and buildings, which local homeless advocates worked to pass with the support of Council President Rebecca Kaplan.
Margaretta Lin, executive director of Just Cities/ the Dellums Institute, told the Oakland Post that the “point-in-time” survey indicates the rapid grow of homelessness in Oakland but does not reflect the true numbers of those who do not have a place to live, which is over 10,000 people.
“Based on a comprehensive Alameda County report conducted in 2014-2015, there were more than 9,000 homeless people in Oakland, and we know on that basis the number is much more today,” she said.
We’re seeing a new homelessness phenomenon, where the homeless population is not just made up of people with mental health or substance abuse problems, said Lin.
“There are people who are working who have lost their homes because they can’t afford the crazy rent. We have people who have minimum wages jobs who are homeless, children who are homeless and even childcare workers who are homeless.”
Because this is a crisis, she said, the city needs to adopt “less expensive, immediate solutions” such as tiny homes, repurposed containers and mobile homes,” dignified, aesthetically pleasing housing models similar to what other cities have done.”
These kinds of homes can cost about $10,000 and be put up in a month, compared with traditional housing, which costs about $600,000 and takes three-to-five years to build, she said. Much of Oakland’s homeless housing strategies, so far, has been transitional housing, only meant for temporary stays of up to six months or building permanent housing which is expensive and takes several years.
State funding can make difference, “depending on how the money is deployed,” Lin said. “People need housing. It can’t be a shelter bed for one night or transitional housing for six months. They need to be able to live in a dignified place for several years until we get more permanent housing built.”
McElhaney Homeless Count Statement:
The Point in Time count confirms what I’ve been saying for years: America’s economy is failing us. For working class communities like ours, the so-called economic recovery is leading to displacement of Black and Latinx families and increasing poverty. While this housing crisis is not unique to Oakland, I am working hard to make sure that we find better ways to relieve the suffering in our communities. The Budget the Council adopted last month adds more money for tenant protection, housing assistance, sanitation supports and the purchase of new transitional housing buildings. While I am encouraged that the we are making progress, I also know that our good efforts are not yet good enough.
My district (District 3) is home to 75% of Oakland’s homeless – the vast majority of whom are Black, ill and old. We need a better coordinated response from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and Alameda County. And we certainly need to demand that Congress restore funding for HUD so that Oakland has the money we need to house our people. It’s past time for the government to treat this with the same urgency we would for a FEMA-qualified federal disaster. We need money to get and keep people housed. And I am going to keep …fighting for the resources we need.