Unhoused residents living on a tract of land just west of Wood Street in West Oakland and their advocates participated in a holiday protest outside of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s home on Dec. 19, 2019.
Three Wood Street residents and about 15 people representing six different activist organizations met at Rocky’s Market grocery store. Then they walked together to Schaaf’s home in the Oakmore neighborhood of Oakland and delivered a letter of demands from Wood Street residents as well as what Dayton Andrews, who’s part of the United Front Against Displacement (UFAD), which helped organize the protest, described as a “sarcastic care package.”
“The package was a symbol of what the City of Oakland has been offering homeless people,” said Andrews. “There was an orange, an apple, a handful of tampons and a cheap toothbrush.”
The package also included a bottle of water, a pair of socks, a pair of underwear and hand sanitizer.
Andrews said that the city is delivering care packages like these through the non-profit Operation Dignity, instead of providing housing, alternative places to be, or adequate services.
In addition to the UFAD, representatives from Tenants and Neighborhood Councils, the Poor People’s Campaign, the Homeless Advocacy Working Group, Abolish ICE SF, and the Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps also participated in the action.
Wood Street residents, like other unhoused residents, say they can’t afford the high cost of Oakland’s rent. Oakland’s point in time count has shown a 59 percent increase of Oakland’s unsheltered population since 2017. If unsheltered and sheltered homeless are combined, those living in shelters and those living on the street, the count rose 47 percent.
The Mercury News has recently reported that while Oakland’s rent costs have increased 108 percent since 2010, median income has only increased 59 percent. Although Schaaf set a goal in 2016 for Oakland to contract with developers to build 17,000 new housing units by 2024, and that 28 percent of those units would be affordable, so far less 8 percent of new units have been affordable and the rest were priced at the market rate.
Even those units defined as affordable by Alameda County are unaffordable for most unhoused residents as the “affordable” low income rental prices are based on a percentage, sometimes as high as 80 percent, of Alameda County’s median income, which is over $80,000 for an individual and over $110,000 for a family of four.
Although Schaaf began a program to collect impact fees from market rate developers who build in Oakland to help fund affordable housing development in 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this month that no affordable housing units have yet been built with the money collected.
In the midst of a dearth of options for low-income residents, unhoused residents and advocates are complaining about harassment from the City of Oakland. City documents show more than 133 city enforced closures of unhoused communities in 2019, up from 35 closures in 2018.
“The residents of the West Oakland Wood Street Community are demanding an end to harassment at the hands of the City of Oakland,” reads the letter Wood Street residents and their advocates delivered and read to Schaaf. The letter also asks for portable toilets, electricity, clean water, improved trash service, and improved shower and laundry service if the city can’t house Wood Street’s residents.
“We’re actually standing up for all of the displaced Oakland residents” said Natasha Noel, a resident of the Wood Street community, speaking outside of Schaaf’s home in a video posted to Twitter. “We’re asking you to please acknowledge [Oakland’s homelessness crisis] because it’s your job to acknowledge it.”
Andrews says that the residents and advocates went to Schaaf’s home because they had tried to meet with her in the past by emailing her and visiting her office but were ignored. He claims she was at home as the protesters saw her crack her window open briefly but she didn’t answer her door when they knocked.
“She knows what residents want and she also knows that residents want to meet but she’s refused,” said Andrews.
The Oakland Post emailed the Office of the Mayor to ask about whether Schaaf’s plans to meet with Wood Street residents and their advocates. We also asked about the city’s impact fees. The mayor’s spokesperson, Justin Berton, didn’t say if the mayor was willing to meet with Wood Street residents and their advocates nor did he answer questions about impact fees.
Instead he released a statement highlighting meetings that he claims the mayor’s staff and service providers have had in the span of a little over a year.
“City of Oakland staff and fellow service providers have met with unsheltered residents at Wood St. for more than a year,” said Berton. “Professional outreach workers and facilitators have held meetings at the site to update all partners, including the property owners, on plans to upgrade conditions at the site. This is a conversation that is ongoing, making progress, and will continue.”