Oakland is inching forward on possibly developing an independently run, city-sanctioned homeless encampment.
The City Council’s Life Enrichment Committee on Tuesday asked city staff to continue working with community members on the idea, which is gaining steam as Oakland’s homeless population increases — a problem that has become much more visible around the city.
“The intention here is that we would move forward as quickly as possible,” said City Councilwoman Annie Campbell Washington.
The push for an independently operated encampment came as the city is also working to find a separate site for a city-run outdoor operation similar to San Francisco’s Navigation Centers.
Several members of the public who spoke Tuesday pushed for an independent community-run site similar to “The Village,” which was dismantled by the city earlier this year.
“We need to implement that all across Oakland because we have 2,761 homeless folks that we need to house,” said activist Jonah Strauss with the Oakland Warehouse Coalition. “There’s no way that we’re going to cover it with one navigation center.”
Activists said the costs to run an independent site like “The Village” would be significantly lower than what the city will spend — and it could be set up faster, they said.
“We don’t need any funding. We’ve got everything. We’re just waiting for the land,” said activist Anita de Asis, known as “Needa Bee.”
In a report, city staff said a community-run site would not have the same social services that are needed to get people into permanent housing.
“That’s just untrue,” said de Asis. “If you look at the program design, you’ll see that we’ll have all sorts of services.”
The committee also wants staff to move quickly to secure land needed for the city-run housing navigation site that’s called “Safe Haven.”
The council allocated $450,000 in the latest budget to run a single Safe Haven site for two years. That site could consist of sturdy “Tuff Shed” shelter units, replacing tents that currently make up encampments. It would include portable toilets, wash stations, garbage pickup and social services to help get people off the streets. The end goal would be to help 40 people at a time find more permanent housing.
“We don’t have enough money in the $450,000 to fully do all of this,” said assistant city administrator Claudia Cappio, adding the philanthropic community would help pick up the tab.
Members of the council listened to a staff presentation on three potential locations to stage a Safe Haven site: 3831 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, East 12th Street and 23rd Avenue, and Sixth Street from Castro to Brush streets, each of which already has an existing encampment nearby.
Some council members expressed interest in exploring all available sites and requested city staff report back on other parcels that may be available for homeless services.
“I really do want to be able to move forward with multiple sites,” said at-large City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.
The committee requested that the city continue working to secure land for the Safe Haven site and to keep working with community members to develop an independent location. The item moves to the full council next week.