Quantcast

Oakland activists build hand-washing stations for unhoused, as city’s sanitation plan falls short

Unhoused Wood Street resident Stacey Kaplus washes her hands at a volunteer-built sanitation station. | Photos: Zack Haber/Hoodline
By Zack Haber - Published on April 21, 2020.

In early March, Mayor Libby Schaaf announced that the city of Oakland would nearly double its efforts to provide hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer and toilets to unhoused communities — expanding from 20 to 39 sites to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

But on and just west of Wood Street in West Oakland, where a community of over 100 unhoused people reside, no new hand-washing stations have appeared. 

A city-owned hand-washing station was installed on Wood Street sometime in 2016 or 2017, but residents say it was emptied of water long ago and is not being serviced. There’s also no way for residents to obtain fresh drinking water from the city, or use the toilet. 

So a group of about 15 neighbors and housing justice advocates have decided to take on the problem themselves, installing three hand-washing stations and three water storage tanks near the Wood Street community.

“This is something that people have been asking for for years. But now that there’s the COVID-19 crisis, it’s a matter of life and death that they have these things,” said Dayton Andrews, an Oakland resident and member of the United Front Against Displacement (UFAD), which organizes against evictions of unhoused people and advocates for permanent housing. 

Through the UFAD, Andrews has worked with Wood Street residents for the past two years, hosting dinners and community clean-ups. He got the idea for the stations from the Berkeley Free Clinic (BFC), which installed two hand-washing stations and a water storage tank of its own on Wood Street in mid-March. 

The UFAD’s and the BFC’s hand-washing stations and water towers now serve about a dozen unhoused people each, while the city’s hand-washing station — which a November 2019 report says is supposed to be serviced about three times a week — remains dry. 

Activist Dayton Andrews with a water tank he and other volunteers helped build on Wood Street.

UFAD members had to build several different versions of the stations and tanks before finding models that worked well outdoors with regular use. At a cost of $70-120 in materials, their purpose-built stations and tanks use foot pumps and gravity to circulate water, and need to be serviced about once a week. 

Fears of COVID-19 spreading to and from unhoused people have heightened in recent days, after over 100 residents of a San Francisco homeless shelter tested positive for the virus. Setting up services for Wood Street residents is not without risk, for both the volunteers and the community. 

While volunteers are “conscious of social distancing,” Andrews says, “we do, at times, have to come within six feet of each other.” For example, heavy water storage tanks can’t be moved by only one person.

“We’ve been doing everything in as much personal protective equipment (PPE) as possible,” said Andrews, noting that all volunteers don masks and gloves. 

The UFAD volunteers say the efforts are worth it to help Wood Street residents like Stacey Kaplus, 51, who’s been dealing with an infection on her nose that she says resulted from being unable to wash her hands regularly. 

“This is a blessing, because now I can wash my hands and I won’t get infected all the time,” said Kaplus, a 16-year Oakland resident who’s lived on Wood Street for the past year. 

With well over 100 residents on Wood Street, the demand for basic sanitation services remains high, and the UFAD hopes to build more water towers and hand-washing stations to serve them all. If they manage to reach that goal, they hope to expand to another community of unhoused people at 37th Street and Martin Luther King Blvd.

“I’m glad the advocates for the homeless did this for us. It works great,” Kaplus said. “Now we just need some porta-potties, and I’ll be OK.”


UFAD is soliciting donations for its efforts here. Those interested in getting involved can visit the organization’s Twitter and Facebook pages for more information. 

Jun 16, 2021
Oakland

Director of the Oakland Museum of California discusses the $18M renovation to the museum campus

The Oakland Museum reopens to the public this weekend, starting June 18, after many months of total closure, and they're unveiling a $17.8 million renovation of the campus and sculpture garden that's been five years in the making. Read More

Jun 04, 2021
Oakland

Bay Area day trips: Summertime in Alameda County

From little-known treasures to popular hot spots, Hoodline is creating curated lists of some of our favorite day-trip destinations within reach of San Francisco, San Jose, and the rest of the Bay. This week, we're sharing a few worthwhile jaunts in Alameda County. Read More

Jun 02, 2021
Oakland

SF social club The Battery is buying Oakland's historic Bellevue Club

The 92-year-old private social club on Lake Merritt, the Bellevue Club (525 Bellevue Ave.), is being sold to San Francisco-based club The Battery, for an East Bay expansion.  Read More

May 21, 2021
Oakland

Questions surrounding masks, vaccine booster shots, and upcoming Oakland events mount

There's been a lot of talk about whether or not you should wear a mask if you're vaccinated, and there have been questions recently about booster shots for those who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Vaccination status may end up being a key factor in whether Oaklanders can attend upcoming, large events like Pride. Read More