By Phil Matier

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — The city of Oakland is taking a different approach to its growing homeless problem.

They’re turning a tent camp underneath the I-580 overpass near Peralta and 36th streets into a homeless shelter.

“The beautiful one right there – that’s my tent,” said homeless resident Lee.

After years of trying to curb growing problems of tent camps on city streets, Oakland has decided to turn one camp into an instant homeless shelter, complete with barriers, toilets and washrooms.

Sara Bedford with Oakland Human Services said there’s clean needle exchange and additional services.

Lee said, “We all take turns picking up garbage and trying to keep it clean.”

After two years on the street it’s a welcome break for Lee.

Oakland Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney said, “We are just shifting how we do business.”

Lee said, “A lot of us have problems- serious problems and we are getting help now and it’s a blessing.”

Not everyone is happy with the forced move in. One homeless man said he preferred where he was before, saying it was cleaner.

McElhaney said the city is “Bringing social workers to the site to see if we can get people aligned with resources and into housing more quickly.”

The homeless have been a problem for the neighborhood for more than a year, but some people aren’t okay with a city-sanctioned camp for the next six months.

Pearl Madison said, “I’m not comfortable with it. Not at all.”

Sam Sipkins said, “My customers don’t like coming to this neighborhood any more. It’s our socialist paradise.”

McElhaney said, “We’ve got to find a better way to take care of the people who are living outdoors. It’s unhealthy for them and unhealthy for the neighborhoods.”

The basic plan is to get more people into housing and making the camps smaller and eventually unnecessary.

Whether the new approach will help the homeless remains to be seen.


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