On Nov. 5 and 6, the City of Oakland began a clearance operation of a homeless encampment on a privately owned tract of land west of Wood St in West Oakland and were met with local residents who protested against displacing homeless people.
“I’ve developed relationships with people that live there and I understand that their situation is precarious,” said local resident Dale Smith, who protested on Nov. 6. “I don’t think the solution the city is putting forth is going to work.”
The city plans to eventually clear the lot, which runs about quarter mile from north to south. Oakland residents have lived there for over five years in vehicles, tents and self-made structures. No one knows exactly how many people live on the site, but most residents claim there are over 100. The lot has become more crowded recently as residents have been evicted from other areas of the city. Some residents claim that police officers directed them to the site.
“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,” said assistant city administrator Joe DeVries, “but the owner would need to clean it thoroughly first.”
The land is owned by a corporation called GameChanger LLC, but the city hasn’t stated who the individual owner is. The East Bay Times has reported that GameChanger LLC’s owner agreed to lease the land to the city for the next two to three years free of charge. As the city’s stated goal for Nov. 5 and 6 was to clear all vehicles from the site, GameChanger also agreed to pay the estimated quarter million dollar towing bill to the city.
The city’s communication director, Karen Boyd, claims OPD identified 139 vehicles that needed to be towed. Although the majority of the vehicles were abandoned, many of the lot’s RVs, vans, and buses serve as homes for people who are unable to afford housing in Oakland.
Past Oakland homeless clearances and evictions have resulted in people losing their vehicle-homes to impound lots. The poorest of the poor were especially vulnerable to these losses, as vehicle-homes that no longer ran were most likely to be impounded. Since many of the lot’s residents had been evicted before and lost their vehicle-homes, they, and the protestors supporting them feared they would lose them again.
On Nov. 5, over 35 housed protestors joined their unhoused neighbors, held signs and chanted “shame” and “quit your jobs” as police officers walked through the lot, directing people out of the way so tow operators could tow vehicles. Some of the signs read “Don’t tow our homes,” “Stop the evictions,” and “Ayuda no destruye,” which means “help don’t destroy” in Spanish.
After word spread that during the present clearance vehicles that served as people’s homes would be towed off the lot and unto Wood Street, as opposed to impound lots, the number of protestors dwindled, though homeless people and their housed supporters were still unhappy with the move. Around a dozen protestors showed up on Nov. 6.
“It’s more of a safety zone in here and out on streets it’s more public,” said Jennifer ‘Harley’ Boslar, who was forced to move from the lot, “I feel like accidents can happen. A car could run into your RV. A semi-truck could run into your RV. People can get easier access to your RV than they can behind the fence.”
Wood Street, where many of the vehicles were moved, is a major route for big rig trucks. The Wood Street lot sits behind a fence with two small entrances, so residents have an easier time monitoring who approaches their vehicle-homes.
As of the night of Nov. 6, 15 vehicle-homes remain on the site. Police were unclear about when the remaining vehicles would be moved as the clearance was only originally planned to be a two day operation.
Natasha Noel, who grew up in Oakland and was recently evicted from her home of 17 years, still lives in an RV on the site and wants to stay there.
“I don’t feel like [moving] is a safe option at all,” said Noel. “On the street we’re likely to be towed at any second.”