I read some stuff about what was happening at Wood Street Village, and I wanted to see for myself if it was true. There was an open call for mutual aid, for observers. Reports indicated that removal crews were coming very early in the morning, in an attempt to tow vehicles people were living in, and destroy their property. I read that these city crews were coming as early as 7:00 am to do this, and that it was contrary to a commitment made to place people into other housing, before destroying or removing their current residences.
Some of these articles used words like “cordoned off”, “prevent access by media”. So, I had to see what was happening.
Because this “homeless encampment” has a larger population than many of the places people lovingly refer to as “Pioneer” or “Boom Towns”. In fact, I would argue that these villages are Boom Towns. That the Boom is the disconnect costs and wages, the inequality or unavailability of a continuum of care, a focus on property, and property owners instead of the people involved in all of this transactional “care”.
Because housing is a human right, even though it isn’t a right protected by the law, yet. But the right to due process, protections from illegal search and seizure, and more, are protected. And I definitely knew there actually was some kind of process for relocation. I had to know more.
So, in the morning (approx. 0700), I arrived with some coffee and mini-muffins (cause, I don’t show up empty-handed anymore), and checked in with my initial point of contact to let them know I was there to, like, observe, I-don’t-know-what? But there was a call for mutual aid to observe, so, I’m here, in that car, over there. Then I just chilled in my car for a couple of hours until everyone else started showing up.
For the record, I wasn’t really sure what to tell people when they asked who I was with. Because I was just answering a call from a friend for observers. So I’m just here to see. But I was in contact with people who actually lived there. And I was given confirmation of some of the factual things about notices and times that made the basis of everything I’d been hearing on social media.
What am I here to see? I don’t know; but I’m here to see it. The only thing I represented, feasibly, was the Alameda Native History Project on a Mission of Mutual Aid; Objective: Observe & Report.
When I arrived there was no one else here, yet. Oakland Public Works employees showed up with a Bulldozer, that they parked in the pictures you see below. Then another truck carrying signage showed up shortly after. They hung around until about 8:00 A.M., when they started closing this section of Wood Street off to use the heavy equipment.
Just before 8:00 A.M. the signage was starting to go up. You can see three pictures below of and OPW employee offloading signage from a pick-up truck.
Oakland Police Department showed up briefly; then left to respond to a call within three minutes.
Soon, more OPW vehicles began arriving, and marking off larger sections of Wood Street for staging. An OPD Parking Tech, and “Civilian Technician” arrived, as well as a Special Assistant to Oakland Mayor, Alexander Evans. Evans was unable to comment as he was there to observe, as well.
There was a photographer who was also on-site, named Olivia. Hopefully we get to see her work, ’cause I know she actually went inside and talked to people. So there might be some interviews, and personal stories available.
I spent a long time talking with Daniel Cooper, the City of Oakland Homelessness Administrator, who was in charge of this site. I need to tell you this man has a Master’s of Public Health degree, and brings the concept of the “continuum of care” to the work he’s doing. I know people are really looking at the City of Oakland, and City Employees as the enemy. But, I honestly have never heard the kind of language that Daniel Cooper was using to acknowledge the situation here at Wood Street, and in Oakland, in General.
Like recognizing and naming the role racism has played in creating a situation where a majority of Oakland’s homeless population is Black. How racism creates the conditions for Black people to become homeless more often, and robs them of the opportunity or ability to become housed. And that this system robs everyone of their humanity, but that it’s just because of prejudice and a systemic racism that the people who are most adversely affected are Black and Brown People, Indigenous People, and People of Color because they’re not white; and this system was created to perpetuate the illusion of White Exceptionalism, White Privilege, and what I have no other words for than Racial Nepotism.
Daniel Cooper has a compelling back story that he shared freely. About how he grew up, to even get into one of the best colleges on the East Coast, and the commitment and sacrifices he had to make to finish his degree. You should listen to him speak about these experiences, because they are so relevant to the work he’s doing here, in Oakland. The candor and earnestness of his truth is undeniable.
If you get the chance, I think you should talk to him. Because he has a lot of knowledge and wisdom to drop on us about this subject that we’re only talking about on NPR. But he’s here to do it. He knows how to do it. As someone who’s come in from a completely different state, he doesn’t have the same political allegiances or baggage that any of the former administrators had.
And he has a message: Daniel Cooper vehemently wants us to know that the people we need to be haranguing are our Alameda County Supervisors, and the Alameda County Health Official; who can do things to help fill the gaps of City budgets to fund programs, and create laws and policies which don’t just focus on property, and cleaning debris, but focus on the actual people impacted by these laws and policies. And the people problems, obstacles, and traps, that create the debris and property issues that everyone wants to focus on instead.
Daniel Cooper told me how he personally confirmed availability of rooms and R.V. parking space for relocation himself; on his own time. He has the receipts. He can show you the pictures on his phone from when he went to these places himself to guarantee the availability of these locations. He didn’t have to do it. He could have just lied about it like all the politicians and bureaucrats past. But he did. And that really shows that this man gives a fuck. That he’s actually focused on the continuum of care.
And, I think people should start asking him, a Public Health Expert, what we need to be doing to help him help the City’s Homeless Population. Because, at the end of the day, he’s still just one man, in one position. But the experience and expertise that he brings to this city are something that we should be supporting whole-heartedly.
That means telling the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to give money to cities to help augment the services that Alameda County Provides, to fill the gaps, and support a continuum of care. To let the Alameda County Health Officer know that Declaring a Health Emergency will avail Counties with the resources necessary to respond to this situation like an earthquake, or a hurricane, just happened.
We have tools that we are not using because we are too focused on the wrong part of the problem.
For too long the focus has been on property, on trash, on right-of-way issues. The focus really needs to be on human needs, providing care while preserving dignity, long term treatment, long term support, viable re-location, and the availability of well-funded services to affect all of this.
Criminalization does not solve the problem. You can’t create a system designed to marginalize a whole group of people and then blame them for being the victims of your design. That’s just the ultimate abuse.
But how can we change a system if we continuously focus on the areas where we have the least impact? The most superficial benefits?
We can’t solve this problem with red ribbons, photo ops, or by disrupting a couple city council meetings. We need to identify the specific people in charge and keep the pressure on. We need to fight for specific solutions, with measurable outcomes. And we need to listen to the people who are most impacted; the people who actually live here.
If there’s anything that you should take away from all of this; it’s that you have power, too. And you don’t have to physically show up to make a difference. That you can contribute your voice, and advocate for people by simply picking up the phone, often, to call your Alameda County Supervisor and tell them we need more funding for programs to help people, instead of property owners. And to tell the Alameda County Health Officer to declare a Public Health Emergency to adequately address the conditions that people are forced to live in.
We cannot blame the victims for the fact that we are all complicit in not doing what we can to make this world safer and more equitable for all of us. Just as we created the situation people languish in today, we can also create the conditions necessary to alleviate their suffering, and help lift them out of this purgatory.
… These are the last pictures I took before I left at approximately 10:39 a.m., ending a little more of 3.5 hours of observance.
I want to note that this isn’t about taking pictures of a “homeless camp” or people who are unhoused. I didn’t even go into the village, because I was here to watch the people in uniform, and to document their activity. Please respect the people at Wood Street Village, by using compassion, and recognizing that this is their home. Please ask for permission before you enter their space; and don’t if they say no. Ask if someone even wants to talk to you. Respect their right to privacy, and to be left alone. The right to quiet enjoyment is truly one of the most basic rights housed people take for granted; and the first right people lose when they are forced out here.
If you want to find out what you can do to help during this process, hit up Daniel Cooper. He can put you in touch with one of the many organizations involved in advocacy for Wood Street Village, and other places with people that aren’t getting as much attention, but need help, too.
Daniel Cooper, City of Oakland, Deputy City Administrator: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also email us at Collab@AlamedaNativeHistoryProject.com to add your organization or contact information to this page, as I’m not including anyone’s personal info without them opting in.
Alameda County Board of Supervisors Website
Funding for Cities, More services for the County – Literally complain to your County Supervisor often enough they will remember your name.
Alameda County Public Health Department Phone Directory
Encourage the declaration of a Public Health Emergency to have access to resources needed to meaningfully address what is a legitimate public health emergency that’s affecting both people, and the environment.