OAKLAND (KPIX) — Oakland city leaders said there are well over 55 confirmed homeless encampments and additional smaller camps scattered throughout the city and the council is set to vote on a new policy that would ban where people can set up tents.
The proposed “Encampment Management Policy” would ban tents from within 150 feet of schools and no more than 50 feet from homes, businesses, playgrounds, parks and other recreation areas. As some Oakland city leaders put it, the homeless camp problem is out of control.
Oakland councilman Noel Gallo is beyond frustrated about the camps, tents and trash. He and volunteers clean up his East Oakland district every weekend.
“This is the worst, worse than I’ve ever seen,” councilman Gallo said. “I know people are going to feel compassionate but I ain’t see one of them come help me clean.”
Gallo said it gets worse every day. Some sidewalks are blocked by tents, there’s trash everywhere and, on Sunday morning, he found a few cars abandoned in the middle of a street. The High Street Home Depot in his district is, again, threatening to leave Oakland.
Gallo said he was warned that Home Depot would be sending a letter to the city this week. City public works crews removed a large illegal encampment in front of the store last year but the homeless are moving back.
“If Home Depot was to leave tomorrow, you’re talking about 350 entry-level jobs for people that live in this neighborhood,” Gallo said.
Councilman Dan Kalb said the city would not ticket or criminalize the homeless but there needs to be a balance.
“(We need to be) talking with the homeless residents, meeting with them, telling them that they really can’t be somewhere and letting them know where they can go and then helping them move, literally, physically helping them move,” said Kalb.
Maria Fuentes has been homeless for five years.
“We’re not trying to be blight,” Fuentes said. “We’re not trying to be a bother to anybody.”
She said the ban would make it really tough to find a place to sleep but she agreed there shouldn’t be tents near schools or playgrounds.
“We don’t want (the kids), you know, looking at us like this is what the future holds,” Fuentes said.
“It’s easy to say where they should not be; it’s not easy to say where they should be,” said councilman Kalb. “No one wants encampments period. But we know we have them.”
While many neighbors support the proposal, they say they want the city to find a place to house the homeless instead of pushing them away. Councilman Gallo questions the effectiveness of the policy.
“We have plenty of policies, plenty of laws. We just don’t enforce them,” Gallo said.
The city council will discuss and likely vote on the Encampment Management Policy proposal Oct. 20.