OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A small army of city workers and dump trucks descended on a shoreline park in Oakland on Tuesday to remove dozens of homeless people from a makeshift camp after a federal judge granted the city’s request to carry out the contested eviction.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer issued a clarifying order Monday stating the city could clear the camp at Union Point Park as long as it provides 72 hours’ notice and complies with its stated policies, which include offering residents shelter and storing valuable seized property for up to 90 days.
Several campers said Tuesday that Oakland did not offer them shelter or failed to offer adequate housing options that would allow them to keep their pets or recreational vehicles.
Sabrina Mao, 43, lives in an RV with her partner and 6-year-old child. She said no one from the city offered her shelter.
Another camper, Eli, said he and his wife were offered a shelter bed but accepting it would mean giving up their 5-year-old American bulldog, Angel, who is “a member of the family.”
A lawyer representing four homeless campers who sued the city to stop the eviction in March said Oakland has not provided any “meaningful” offers of shelter.
“To tell people living in the relative shelter of an RV to give up all their belongings for one night in a shelter, not even 24 hours, it’s absurd and we argue does not meet the constitutional requirement,” attorney EmilyRose Johns, of Siegel, Yee, Brunner & Mehta, said by phone Monday.
Johns said the city has a track record of not letting people retrieve property taken or discarded during encampment sweeps. That is one of the claims in another federal lawsuit over the city’s December 2018 eviction of a homeless camp on Edes Avenue in East Oakland.
Oakland has more than 4,000 homeless residents, a number that shot up 47% over the last two years, according to data released in July. The number of homeless people far outpaces the number of shelter beds.
Joe DeVries, an assistant to the city administrator who was on hand during the camp eviction Tuesday, said the Union Point Park camp had to be cleared because it was in a public park next to a waterway. He said the camp has generated complaints over sanitation issues, a rat infestation and crime problems.
Campers disputed claims of crime problems, including reports that a 7-year-old boy was shot there in July. They say the boy was injured by a firecracker.
DeVries acknowledged people cannot bring pets to shelters, but he said people can keep pets in their vehicles or stay in vehicles with their pets.
One of the plaintiffs, Amanda Nguyen, who asked to be identified by a different last name than in public court filings, accused the city of reneging on a proposed settlement that would have guaranteed her a spot in a city-sanctioned RV park by Dec. 31. She produced a three-page, unsigned agreement dated July 25.
DeVries said Oakland stands by the terms offered in that proposal. He declined to comment on settlement details.
In June, the city opened a safe parking area that accommodates 27 RVs near the Oakland Coliseum. DeVries said the city plans to expand that lot to accommodate 47 vehicles this year. Another safe parking area for 60 vehicles is planned for West Oakland, but only people living out of vehicles in that area will be allowed to park there.
The city has opened five “cabin community” sites where people live in shed-sized structures with providers on hand that offer access to mental health, addiction recovery, job placement and other services. DeVries said the city has a 70% success rate in transitioning people from cabin communities to temporary or permanent housing.
Despite its efforts to tackle the homeless crisis, critics of the evictions say shuffling homeless people from one place to another is the wrong approach.
Alex Au, a homeless advocate and South Berkeley resident who came to the park Tuesday, argued Oakland criminalizes people for a situation the city created.
“You’re seeing more money than ever come into Oakland, but there’s no way for people to get access to resources,” Au said, referring in part to the large number of market-rate housing developments now under construction in Oakland.
DeVries strongly denied the city punishes people for being homeless.
“We’re not telling people you can’t be homeless, or criminalizing or penalizing people for being homeless,” DeVries said. “We’re telling people where they cannot set up encampments.”