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Oakland Considering Up To 10 Sanctioned Homeless Encampments To Expand Outreach

Oakland's City Council is considering expanding outreach to the city's growing homeless population, potentially adding services to as many as 10 new sanctioned camps over the next two years and purchasing a building for a new shelter.

In a report on homelessness received by the City Council’s Life Enrichment Committee on Tuesday, staff said outreach efforts at two homeless camps have already shown success. The city has been providing amenities like portable toilets and trash pickup for camps and working to help residents find temporary and or permanent housing.

At the first camp where the city started providing services last October at 35th and Peralta Streets, 24 of the original 40 people camping there have found housing, eight are in permanent housing and 16 are in transitional housing. Only six residents remain at the site.

But as some have left, others have moved in and a goal to wind down the camp by March quietly slipped by. Instead, it looks like Oakland will be providing services to homeless campers for the foreseeable future.

Oakland added K-rails and other amenities to a camp on Wood Street last month.

In March, the city added services at another camp on Wood Street between 24th and 26th Streets, including toilets, wash stations, and K-rails to protect the camp from traffic. Now, the city is considering adding services to as many as 10 additional camps over the next two years at a cost of $360,000.

“This is hard, heartbreaking work and has been a crisis for a really long time in the Bay Area,” said City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney. Three-fourths of the city’s homeless population lives in her district, which includes downtown and West Oakland.

It’s been two years since the last area homeless count, which found that at least 2,200 people were homeless in Oakland. Results of a count conducted in January are expected to find that number has grown substantially.

The city has found that most of the people camping on the streets did not move to Oakland from elsewhere and many were camping in a neighborhood where they’d been displaced. Seventy percent of the city’s homeless population is African-American. Women who become homeless frequently have some experience with domestic violence.

Three-fourths of the city's homeless population lives in West Oakland.

The outreach efforts have been successful in not only keeping the camps and surrounding neighborhoods cleaner, but in engaging people with the services available to them, according to the city. The gratitude for even the meager amenities provided makes people more receptive to other assistance.

Oakland would also like to replicate the success of the Henry Robinson Multi Service Center at 559 16th St., which provides interim housing for single men and women, case management and rapid re-housing services. Eighty percent of the residents coming through the center have been moved into permanent housing.

The city is looking into finding another building with room for 100-150 beds to establish a similar center, but at $2 million, even with assistance from the county, the funds may be difficult to find in the budget.

There was an idea suggested to house homeless residents in a vacant jail on Seventh Street, but concerns were raised that housing people in a jail would only further conflate homelessness with criminal activity. The city administrator’s office has also looked into renting out motels on MacArthur Boulevard.

The council is scheduled to further discuss the issue at the May 23 meeting of the Life Enrichment Committee and could decide on its next steps by the end of May.

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