Oakland removes last of the Wood Street Commons encampment following years of controversy

Oakland removes last of the Wood Street Commons encampment following years of controversyOakland Fire Department
Nina Singh-Hudson
Published on May 05, 2023

The City of Oakland recently razed the largest homeless encampment in the area, known as Wood Street Commons, displacing its many residents who had considered the encampment their "home" for years as reported on KRON4. After a lengthy battle with the city, a judge ultimately ruled in the city's favor for demolishing the sprawling encampment, despite the pleas of the 70 residents estimated to live there (though some claimed hundreds lived within the tight-knit community).

The operation to dismantle the encampment prompted a large and complex response as public works crews hauled away 700 tons of trash, OakDOT towed 30 vehicles and nine stolen ones, Oakland Animal Services rescued 49 cats and kittens, environmental services crews cleared hazardous materials, and firefighters extinguished several fires according to KRON4. Unhoused residents attempted to keep police officers out of the encampment by erecting a barrier, but ultimately the city moved forward with the closure.

Before the closure, the city offered shelter services to the Wood Street Commons residents, including the Wood Street cabin program and Safe RV Parking program, though the encampment residents found these options inadequate and expressed frustration at what they viewed as insufficient efforts to support their community; they wanted the city to create a space with more wraparound services, support, and freedom. Despite the challenges, 57 people accepted shelter services, and Lifelong Medical and Alameda County Health Care provided on-site services for medical needs and mental health support.

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao expressed gratitude to those involved in the process, emphasizing the goals of safety and securing dignified shelter for all residents. The city has claimed that closing the three-acre encampment will pave the way for building 170 units of permanent affordable housing on city-owned land, which could house up to 500 Oaklanders, as cited by Oakland’s Homelessness Administrator LaTonda Simmons.

For many Wood Street residents, the encampment represented not only a place to live but also a strong sense of community and belonging. In a KQED article, LaMonte Ford, a Wood Street Commons resident, highlighted that many residents had jobs but could not afford rent in the increasingly costly Bay Area. The recently razed encampment location even offered communal amenities like a kitchen, outdoor meeting spaces, a free store, space for food and clothing donations, and storage facilities. However, concerns had long been raised about health and safety issues at the site, which continued until the city’s decision to evict the residents.

It's worth noting that the city did try to work with residents, offering spots at a nearby "community cabins" site and an RV parking location, but these options were deemed unfit by the residents, who requested more comprehensive supportive services, stronger community infrastructure, and an environment that felt less like "sheds," which one resident described as akin to a "prison cell".

While the razing of Wood Street Commons undoubtedly impacts the lives of the many unhoused residents who called it home for years, it's unclear what the future holds for them and what long-term solutions can be put in place to address the ongoing crisis of homelessness in the Oakland area. In the meantime, it's crucial to continue discussing the unique challenges that unhoused residents face, such as maintaining a sense of community and stability, procuring adequate shelter services, fostering support, and ultimately working toward long-term, sustainable housing solutions.