Unhoused residents living on a field, just west of Wood Street between 24th and 26th Streets in West Oakland, are anxious as the City of Oakland plans to clear all vehicles from the site on Nov. 5 and Nov. 6. Many of the cars serve as people’s homes.
“The idea of losing my community is really traumatic,” said Lydia, who has lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years. “I know the people here and they know me and I feel like I belong here more than I’ve felt anywhere in a long time.”
Lydia has lived in a trailer in the Wood St. encampment since May, after she said Oakland Police told her it was a place where folks who lived in vehicles would not be bothered.During an interview with the Oakland Post, her trailer overflowed with possessions strewn out of her door and all around it in an unorganized manner.
Although she said she doesn’t need much of her possessions, she’s lost almost all of her things in previous Oakland evictions. The memory of that loss has caused Lydia much anxiety, and in anticipation of the upcoming eviction she has resorted to hoarding belongings. The Mayo Clinic defines “hoarding disorder” as a medical condition.
Previous city run evictions of RVs and vehicles have resulted in some residents losing their vehicles and all their possessions inside them because if vehicles can’t be moved in a timely fashion on eviction days, the city tows them. Unhoused residents then often don’t have the resources to get them out of impound lots.
The City had originally planned to remove the vehicles on Oct. 18 but pushed the date back. Lydia says the uncertainty of when exactly residents will have to leave makes the situation more difficult.“It snarls a lot of people like me into a PTSD hoarding frenzy,” she said.
Other Wood St. unhoused residents have also lost most of their possessions during city run evictions. Ramona Choyce, a lifelong Oakland resident sleeps outside in the Wood St encampment because she said the city towed her Subaru on Sept 25th, because she didn’t have the money for registration. She claims it was her fifth vehicle lost to city towing.
“I’m not safe,” said Choyce. “I don’t feel safe. My safe place is gone.”Choyce said she woke up recently to a man she didn’t know laying down beside her. She worries about being harmed by men in the future.
“If I get in my car and lock myself in I know it’s going to be a struggle for them to get in,” said Choyce, “but now I’m in the open and I’ve vulnerable.”
Many Wood St residents arrived there after the city forced them out of other areas. Jessica Huffman, who used to live in a parking lot bordering the bay at Union Point before the city evicted her and dozens of other residents, moved her bus to Wood St. She said the instability of being forced out of her previous community has caused her to drop out of medical school.
Oakland currently has two city run safe parking sites for those who live in vehicles that have security guards, bathrooms, and running water which can serve up to 45 vehicles. The city’s recent point-in-time homeless count showed 1430 people living in vehicles.
City documents show plans to add an addition West Oakland site that would serve “approximately 48 vehicles” in the fall of 2019.
“The city has been reviewing the idea of converting this privately owned lot to a safe RV parking area that would serve West Oakland RV dwellers, but the owner would need to clean it thoroughly first before it could be developed into such a use,” said Assistant to the City Administrator Joe DeVries.
The owner is Mike Bonifer, who runs GameChangers, LLC and lives in Los Angeles. The Oakland Post has attempted to reach him for comment but was unsuccessful.
Some residents of the Wood St encampment are skeptical that they’ll have access to the program. The Oakland Post counted around 85 vehicles at the site, and while some vehicles are abandoned, others showed evidence that people live in them. Most residents living in vehicles are unclear where they will go if they have to leave and some don’t know if they’ll be able to tow their inoperable vehicles off of the site.
DeVries claims the vast majority of the vehicles are abandoned but Wood St residents disagree and claim that no city census has been done there to find out how many people on site live in vehicles.
“The City is hoping the operation does not cause anyone to lose a vehicle they actually live in,” said DeVries, who also claimed spots would be offered in a West Oakland Safe Parking site near Target. But the site, which can hold 17 vehicles, currently appears half full.
Many Oakland Residents have lived on Wood St site for years, some for up to five.