Status of Caltrans Closure of Wood Street Encampments on State Land
In late August, a federal court order cleared the way for Caltrans to clear the sprawling Wood Street encampment where an estimated 200-300 unsheltered people were living, along with a massive accumulation of burned-out cars and debris. Caltrans has approached the clearing and closure operation in three phases and is on schedule to fully close the encampment by early November according to reports from Caltrans representatives.
City Outreach and Shelter Support
In anticipation of Caltrans’ operation, the City of Oakland identified and reserved available shelter beds in the system to shelter the residents of the encampment for the stages of clearings conducted by Caltrans. City staff, along with Alameda County and Operation Dignity, worked to offer shelter, services, and relocate people from the Caltrans property and transition them into available emergency housing shelters.
At the start of the Caltrans operation, there were roughly 200 individuals who had been living on this portion of Caltrans property. Through outreach and direct engagement, people displaced by the Caltrans operation as well as others on nearby City areas were offered a range of shelter alternatives, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, Community Cabins, RV Safe Parking, and medical respite. Individuals who declined or chose not to engage in the outreach process shifted further into State property areas or chose to self-relocate to City parcels and rights of way.
As of October 14:
- 95 people have accepted offers of shelter,
- 107 have declined options of shelter offered, and
- 4 remain on the site.
To date, with respect to the people displaced by the Caltrans operation on Wood Street, the City has had enough shelter beds for everyone who wanted one.
Some people have declined transitional housing and other alternatives because they could not bring their pets. The City is exploring ways to overcome this challenge and better support unhoused people who have pets. Many people have also asked for hotel vouchers.
Our outreach teams report that a common narrative they are hearing from people who have flat-out declined support is that housing is a right and therefore should be free, and they say they will only accept their own free apartment. Others have stated their preference is to remain living on the street without employment and do not plan to engage in a program. Many have stated their desire to be provided a parcel of land to self-manage their community as a collective.
Homeless Intervention Programs on Wood Street
Beginning in 2021, the City of Oakland advanced both planning and implementation to support the approximate 300 individuals in the full expanse of the Wood Street encampment.
Game Changer 1
In July 2021, the City established a safe and secure site for 40 RVs on a portion of a City-leased property on Wood Street known as the Game Changer lot. The City met with members of the Wood Street community and began developing plans for the remainder of the Game Changers lot, subject to identification of funding.
Game Changer 2
In December 2021, the City applied to the State of California for an $8.3 million grant to establish a 100-bed shelter program on the second portion of the Game Changers lot. The application included a letter of support from Caltrans that committed 40 of the cabins for use by Caltrans in clearing State property. In late March 2022, the City was awarded $4.7 million, and in September 2022, the City was notified it would receive the remaining $3.6 million to fully fund 100 units. By January 2023, the City plans to build a community cabin site on the remainder of the Game Changer lot. The site will support the unsheltered residents of Wood Street, including those currently camped on the City-owned property at 1707 Wood Street, whose presence is delaying construction of a 184-unit, 100% affordable housing development. This emergency shelter program will include housing navigation and employment services.
Urgent Response - New Emergency Interventions on Caltrans’ Property
Beach Street—Opened October 12, 2022
Caltrans’ closure of the Wood Street encampment has created a significant impact on City streets on and around Wood Street, in other West Oakland neighborhoods, and across the City. Many of the unsheltered people displaced by Caltrans were living in RVs or vehicles, and while they were unwilling to accept various emergency shelter alternatives, some were willing to accept relocation to a safe RV parking site.
To address the urgent impact of unhoused displacement to City streets, in just one week, the City reached an agreement with Caltrans to reactivate a Safe RV Parking site at Beach Street. This expedited process was possible because the City already holds a lease with Caltrans on this property that runs from Beach to Mandela, north of 34th Street. The Mandela side of the property houses the Mandela Cabin Community. The Beach side previously served as a Safe RV Parking site, which was shut down earlier this year due to security concerns.
The City established an emergency agreement with Operation Dignity to manage the site, which can accommodate up to 17 RVs and up to one passenger vehicle per participant. The site opened on October 12. Operation Dignity is providing 24/7 security and a site manager with light-touch housing navigation. Lighting, security cameras, and smoke detectors are being installed. To date, there are six RVs with eight residents, and an additional 11 households have agreed to move in. Estimated costs for services for the remainder of the fiscal year is about $500,000.
Caltrans Property at Mandela & 34th Street—Pending
The City is also engaging with Caltrans regarding another property they own on Mandela north of 34th Street across from the existing Community Cabin site. Caltrans is willing to make that site available to the City via a new lease. This site can accommodate about 50 RVs and/or other vehicles serving approximately 100 individuals and could be ready for occupancy within three months. Use of this site would require the City to identify about $650,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year and establish an agreement with a service provider to manage and provide security at the site.
Impact on Surrounding Area and the City’s Other Encampment Management Activities
As Wood Street residents move to other locations in the city, we are seeing a significant impact on residential and commercial areas. Most notably, the City-owned right-of-way adjacent to the Game Changers lot where a new homeless intervention program is planned was re-encamped. As of October 14, the City’s Encampment Management Team has cleared and secured the Game Changers lot, and construction of the upcoming cabin community has begun.
In addition, encampments have grown once again at Mosswood Park, MLK, the Prescott Neighborhood, Lower Bottoms, Cypress Village, in and around Raimondi Park, and other locations, mainly in West Oakland.
The Caltrans Wood Street closure has significantly reduced the City’s inventory of shelter beds available to support the closure of other encampments across the City. Given the lack of shelter space, the Encampment Management Team has been forced to scale back encampment closure operations and will instead focus on deep cleaning operations and debris abatement until spaces reopen to comply with legally required shelter offers.
The impact of Caltrans’ Wood Street closure created a swift and significant impact to the approximately 200 unsheltered people who were displaced and to the surrounding community, and it required the City’s immediate action to mitigate. While these needs are urgent, we must remember that there remain more than 5,055 homeless people in Oakland, and nearly 10,000 in Alameda County. In Alameda County, 60% of the homeless population are African American men and more than 3,000 of them live in the streets or in conditions unfit for human habitation. Furthermore, according to the 2018-2020 Alameda County Homeless Mortality Report, between 2018 and 2020, the number of people experiencing homelessness who died in Oakland and Emeryville more than doubled, and during that time, of the 459 unsheltered people who died, 55% (253) were African American/Black.