(KRON) — Oakland’s largest homeless encampment, known as the Wood Street Commons, was razed by city crews and unsheltered people were forced to leave the area.
Some unsheltered people considered the encampment as the only place they felt was “home.” For months, homeless people pleaded with the city and a judge to let them stay, but the judge ruled in the city’s favor for demolishing the sprawling encampment.
The controversial operation required:
- Public works crews hauling away 700 tons of trash.
- OakDOT towing away 30 vehicles and nine stolen vehicles.
- Oakland Animal Services rescuing 49 cats and kittens.
- Environmental services crews clearing hazardous materials.
- Firefighters extinguishing several fires.
- Police officers providing “critical public safety support,” city officials wrote.
Unhoused residents erected a barrier attempting to keep police officers out of the encampment.
“After three weeks of transitioning Wood Street encampment residents and their pets to safe shelter programs with supportive services, on Wednesday the City of Oakland completed the court-authorized closure of the city-owned Wood Street parcel that began April 10,” city officials wrote Friday.
Mayor Sheng Thao supported the operation. “Safety and securing dignified shelter for every resident were our primary goals in this closure. I am grateful we achieved both and thankful for the collective efforts of the many staff in city departments, county agencies, and community partners who contributed to this massive effort,” Thao said.
Fifty-seven people accepted shelter services, including the Wood Street cabin program and Safe RV Parking program. Lifelong Medical and Alameda County Health Care provided on-site services to residents in need of medical services and mental health support.
“Tonight, at least 57 fewer Oakland residents are sleeping outside on the street,” said Oakland’s Homelessness Administrator LaTonda Simmons. “The city is now able to move forward with the development of 170 units of permanent affordable housing for up to 500 Oaklanders.”
City officials said closing the three-acre encampment will provide space for building 170 units of permanent affordable housing on city-owned land.
A city-conducted census of the encampment estimated that 70 resided there before it was torn down. Unsheltered Wood Street residents, however, conducted their own census and said the tight-knit community was comprised of hundreds of residents.
Wood Street homeless advocates explained, “Many Wood Street residents have been living on the current land for as long as a decade. We believe that given how long people have lived here, that we deserve more than ‘adequate shelter.'”
Jessica Blalock, aka “Freeway,” lived in the encampment. She wrote, “Since 2018, the Wood Street settlement has blossomed as a place of refuge for many of Oakland’s unhoused citizens. The majority of us were displaced when the city conducted sweeps at other encampments. Through one avenue, or another, we found a home on Wood St. The numbers started small, then grew over the last few years. But something else grew as well, our sense of community and belonging.”
The encampment was a maze of Recreational Vehicles, broken down cars, tents, and other possessions. Dangerous fires frequently ignited in the encampment, and were cited as one of many public health and safety reasons for demolishing it.