OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Could trailers be a new temporary fix for California’s growing homelessness crisis?
Critics say they are just going to cause more problems with illegally parked vehicles on city streets. Homeless residents that have talked to KPIX 5 say they like the idea. A trailer is definitely a step up from a tent.
But some say one local company — a company we have been reporting on for months now — offered them deals that were too good to be true.
Depending on how you look at it, the way Kymberli Hunter-Wilson and her husband Lenton are living is either an impressive display of human ingenuity or downright depressing.
“It’s home. It’s as close to a home front and back door as were going to get right now. My husband is a builder. He keeps making changes to make it more comfortable,” explained Kymberli.
This creative collection of tents comes complete with a kitchen, pantry, a functioning shower and even cable, though unfortunately the cable signal goes in and out with each passing BART train. The makeshift home is the envy of their homeless encampment on 77th Street.
“Then people say, ‘Aren’t you guys moving? I want your place when you move,'” said Lenton.
In July, someone offered the Hunter-Wilsons a way out.
“We were introduced to Cornelia Banks in July. We filled out applications. She told us her goal was to have us off the street by the end of August,” said Kymberli.
Banks, a residential counselor for Bay Area Community Services or BACS, told Kymberli and Pete about a new choice for them: Trailers as permanent housing.
“What kind of difference would that make? It would be a total turnaround for us,” said Kymberli.
Kymberli and Pete said they were given the option of an RV or a modular home. They chose the modular home.
In a series of text messages Banks told Kymberli, “I’m going to text you some places I want you to pick up applications for.”
Next came addresses for modular homes in Stockton and Lodi. The pricetag? $30,000, that BACS would pay. Kymberli filled out applications for several, she took BART to meet her mother to tour each place.
She was elated; finally someone was going to pull her and Lenton off the street.
Then in October, Banks just stopped responding.
“All I want to know is what’s going on. What can we do to get it moving again?” said Kymberli.
Joseph Jones had better luck, at first. A few months after his probation officer found him a bed at the BACS-run Holland Navigation Center in Oakland, he says a BACS counselor there gave him hopeful news: They could offer him permanent placement in an RV.
He said he was given a list of RVs to check out, and picked a 1986 Dolphin motorhome.
“It was $6,000. My case manager went with me to go look at it and we came back and we bought it,” said Jones. “But you know, nothing was evaluated. Because first of all, it was my first car, and I don’t know anything about RVs”
The Alameda County Probation Department confirms that BACS placed Jones in the RV without the agency’s consent. Jones says it didn’t take long to realize there were some serious problems.
“The electricity didn’t work, the heater didn’t work, there was water damage in the top bed,” said Jones.
Then came engine troubles. Finally his RV broke down in downtown Oakland. He says he tried to get BACS to help him with repairs to no avail.
“They didn’t move a finger,” said Jones. “The way they were saying it, I successfully transitioned out of BACS into something they were offering.” The RV has been collecting tickets ever since.
“Man, like over a thousand dollars [in tickets],” said Jones.
In a previous interview, BACS CEO Jamie Almanza denied the existence of an RV or trailer or modular home program.
“BACS does not buy RVs as a program model,” said Almanza. But she did confirm an unnamed donor did buy RVs for a few clients.
“The donor, that lovely donor, donated to BACS to house two families,” said Almanza.
BACS now says four clients total have been permanently housed in trailers, but won’t disclose whether Jones was one of them. The company told KPIX privacy laws prohibit them from giving us any information, but they claim everything Jones and the Hunter-Wilsons told KPIX about RVs and modular homes is “not” true.
Meanwhile, thanks to his probation officer, Jones has since found shelter in a group home in San Leandro. As for Kymberli and Pete, they’re still out on the street, waiting.
“I don’t get angry, but I have so much anger right now. This lady had us so pumped up,” said Lenton.
“We’re just tired. We’re senior citizens, it’s cold and I’m really disappointed,” said Kymberli.
Kymberli said she heard from Cornelia Banks recently, confirming she will not be getting the modular home after all. Kymberli says she was told the funds have been depleted.
And in a late email, a spokesperson for BACS now says when a client is not willing to go into shared housing, he or she may be willing to live in an RV parked at a house with a specific agreement to do so.