OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Berkeley’s RV overnight parking ban and San Francisco’s crackdown on overnight camping in parks has pushed many homeless people to encampments in Oakland. One city council member the situation is prompting some businesses to consider leaving town.
Kay is the unofficial mayor of one of Oakland’s largest homeless encampments. She’s been living behind the Home Depot in Oakland for two years. “It actually has grown substantially within the last six months,” she said.
There’s no official count, but by the looks of it, at least one hundred homeless people are now living in the sprawling shantytown located behind the hardware chain. Kay says its growth is tied to nearby encampment closures.
“That is due to all the closures that have happened. 23rd was closed, so some of the people who didn’t go to the tuff sheds came here. 66th was closed.”
She says people are also coming in from other cities and even other states. “That’s because we are the only state that gives out money immediately,” she said.
Her neighbor Elizabeth moved in just a month ago. She says she paid Kay $500 to live in an encampment on the street. Elizabeth lost her home to Hurricane Harvey and was living in a camp behind the Oakland Coliseum until the city shut it down.
Elizabeth says the nights are the worst when most of her neighbors are on meth. “Their humanity is not there no more. They don’t care what they do, how they do it, who they do it to,” she said.
Elizabeth’s already been robbed once, but even worse, she says the back of her house is being used as a toilet. It’s a situation she recently complained about to Oakland city council member Noel Gallo.
“It has become a real serious public health issue,” said Gallo.
He knows a lot of the inhabitants of the encampment by name because he says he’s here all the time cleaning up trash. “If I don’t pick up 200 needles every Saturday and Sunday, I don’t pick up enough,” said Gallo.
He’s worried the growing encampment will force out Home Depot and 300 entry level jobs with it. So far, the city hasn’t been able to shut this encampment down, partially because a recent appeals court ruling makes it illegal for the cities to displace people in encampments when no alternative shelter is available.
And right now, there isn’t an alternative in Oakland.
“So then the police won’t go there. Public works will not pick up the trash, they will not service their public restrooms, so it’s a mess,” said Gallo.
The street behind Home Depot where many people have been camping is city property. Mayor Libby Schaaf says she will be asking the city council to approve funding in June to close off this dead end street. She’s promising a resolution by the end of the summer.
“Home Depot has not threatened to move. They have been absolutely reasonable in demanding the city to resolve a situation that is untenable to them,” said Schaaf.
We asked her if the city is being taken advantage of. Her response: “No, I’ve been very clear about my approach to homelessness. It is compassionate and it is effective but it is not lenient or the wild west,” said Schaaf.
The mayor says right now, Oakland is in triage mode. “We don’t have the resources to completely address the problem we have,” she admitted. But Gallo says that’s a line he’s heard one too many times.
“We have got to change that behavior and the mayor has got to quit making excuses,” said Gallo.
As for Kay? She knows from experience what’s about to happen. The city will shut the encampment down and will probably offer her a space in a tuff shed or community cabin, which she won’t take. So despite the city’s efforts to avoid shuffling people from encampment to encampment, Kay says that’s exactly what will happen to her.
“The shelters that are provided by the government are full. There are no beds. So what help is 211? I will just be moving along and finding another location. That is pretty much all I can do,” said Kay.
Ironically, a city inspector cited Home Depot for all the trash that’s accumulated. The company says it is dealing with increased theft from people living in the encampment. And it says the RVs parked there have made it dangerous for suppliers to get in and out. Mayor Schaaf promised a space for the RVs earlier this year, but it still hasn’t opened.