Oakland Goes Back to School (Safely), Weathers Smoky Skies, and More!

Date Posted: October 2nd, 2020 @ 11:48 AM
Last Updated: October 2nd, 2020 @ 12:08 PM
A Head Start student learns at home.

Human Services Department Updates, September 2020

Head Start Reopens for a COVID-Safe Back-to-School Experience

After six months of distance learning and weeks of rigorous safety preparations, many Head Start students returned to their classrooms on September 10. These young learners came back to school to find the same friendly teachers and colorful classrooms they left behind in March, as well as new safety measures such as symptom checks, disinfected surfaces, and restructured playtimes to meet strict rules for school reopenings. Only those Head Start families who elected to send their children in-person to school have returned. For those families who wished to continue distance learning, at least three Head Start centers will be providing remote classroom education for the rest of the year. While the unsafe air from wildfire smoke meant that centers had to briefly close again after reopening, Head Start families and staff proved once again that they can adapt to the toughest of circumstances — all while supporting the youngest members of the Oakland community. Find out how to enroll in Head Start and explore ways to teach your children at home.

Air Respite Centers Provide Shelter From Smoke

Where were you the week the sky turned orange and then ashy gray? For years to come, Oaklanders will recount the hazardous air quality our city endured this September as wildfires raged across the West Coast. But for those people living outside of a home, the constant exposure to smoky air was particularly dangerous. In order to support our unhoused neighbors without access to clean air, the City opened four air respite centers from September 12–13 where people could find shelter during the day away from the smoke. The North Oakland Senior Center, St Vincent’s, the 81st Ave Library and the Dimond Library each served as temporary air respite centers. The City is currently exploring options for opening long-term air respite centers and working on spreading awareness so that the air respite centers will be fully utilized. Visit acphd.com for resources on managing hazardous air quality. For more information on air quality and resources, and to sign up to receive air quality alerts, go to https://www.oaklandca.gov/resources/unhealthy-air-event.

Care & Concern Efforts at the Downtown Oakland Senior Center

The doors to the center may be closed, but staff at the Downtown Oakland Senior Center are keeping things moving. Last week, the center’s staff hosted their third Membership Appreciation Give-a-Way. They packed care packages full of masks, disinfectant, toilet paper, lip balm, bandages, pens, snack bars and other goodies for their seniors. Staff used the center’s weekly electronic newsletter to announce "Come and Get it!" and more than 100 grateful seniors did just that. The Downtown Oakland Senior Center staff has continued to use the closure due to COVID-19 as an opportunity to show the sheltering seniors how much they are missed. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, center staff have been making personal phone calls to the center’s members — more than 1,000 people! Center staff know how much the seniors enjoy the personal interaction and appreciate having someone to talk to while sheltering-in-place. Plus, more than 40 seniors come by the center daily to receive lunches and staff often "gift" them with small tokens of appreciation each week. Sometimes it’s pens and sometimes it’s shopping bags. Other times it’s small packets of candy, stress balls, or even handmade soaps. For more information on Downtown Oakland Senior Center, visit their website at https://www.oaklandca.gov/topics/downtown-oakland-senior-center.

Important 2020 Census Updates

With just days away until the deadline, Alameda County and the City of Oakland are responding well to the 2020 Census. Here’s how we are doing:

  • Alameda County: 73.8% response rate (Note: This is higher than in 2010.)
  • City of Oakland: 68.6% response rate
  • Unfortunately, many tracts in East and West Oakland are only at 50% response rates.
  • Check out this Real-Time Response Rate Map

Here's how you can get counted!

  • Online at www.my2020census.gov (very fast and easy to do!)
  • By mail - return the paper form you received!
  • By phone:
    • English 844-330-2020
    • Spanish 844-468-2020
    • Mandarin: 844-391-2020
    • Cantonese: 844-398-2020
    • Vietnamese: 844-461-2020
    • Korean: 844-392-2020
    • Russian: 844-417-2020
    • Arabic: 844-416-2020
    • Tagalog: 844-478-2020
    • OR in person with a Census taker on your porch
    • Have concerns? Call Alina Farooq (Operations and Program Manager for Alameda County Census Office. (510) 314-3686

Do your part to help your neighbors respond to the 2020 Census! Who do you know who needs help with the Census? Or just a friendly reminder about why they should participate? Can you contact them to make sure they get counted! Every Californian who is counted ensures that $10,000 in federal funding comes back to our community for schools, food stamps, affordable housing, emergency services, and SO much more!

Inhale, Exhale, & Enjoy Free Ecotherapy Classes

Oakland ReCAST is sponsoring a series of ecotherapy trainings, offered for free for the public. Ecotherapy is an approach toward healing in which the human mind and body are viewed in their relationship to nature and the whole web of life. The two-week series from September 21–October 5 is hosted by the incredible J. Phoenix Smith, who is a MSW Ecotherapist and Initiated Oricha Priest of Aganyu. Here are the classes and with links to register:

9/23: Urban Farming, Healing and Youth and Children of Color

9/25: Ecotherapy: Ancestral Healing With Nature
9/28: Ecotherapy and the Problem of Whiteness

9/29: Ecotherapy and Ecospirituality: Oricha, Nature and Healing

9/30: Whale Whispering: Healing with Water and Whale Songs

10/1:Ecotherapy Terrapsychology: From Imagination to Action

A Sleep Symposium for Snoozin’ Seniors

When the Downtown Oakland Senior Center heard that many of their seniors were having trouble sleeping, staff reached out to the University of California-San Francisco to set up a sleep symposium. The Downtown Oakland Senior Center has partnered with the university before, and this new endeavor is slated to include speaker panels and workshops to help everyone practice better sleep habits. And don’t forget! Downtown Oakland Senior Center is still distributing food at 8 a.m. every Wednesday until supplies run out. To contact the center, call 510-615-5731 or email luwuseba@oaklandca.gov.

To make your own bedtime tea, mix 4 tablespoons dried chamomile, 2 teaspoons dried mint, and 2 tablespoons dried lemon verbena. Close your eyes and smell the steam wafting over the cup for additional relaxation. Avoid adding too much honey to sweeten it — or you might stay up all night!

Key Resources

Contact the Human Services Department

Human Services Main Office


150 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, 4th Floor

Oakland, CA 94612

Alameda County Oakland Community Action Partnership


Community Housing & Homelessness


Head Start


Oakland Fund for Children & Youth


Oakland Youth Advisory Commission


Senior Services


Sugar Sweetened Beverage


Summer Food Service Program