Residents at Oakland 'Safe Quarantine' RV Site Complain of Power, Water and Safety Issues

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On May 5, city officials officially opened Operation HomeBase, an RV site with 91 trailers in Oakland, to safely quarantine people over the age of 65 or who have medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus. Residents have been complaining about the lack of power during the day, trouble with the water systems and lack of hand rails that make the tight quarters difficult for the elderly residents to navigate. (Courtesy City of Oakland)

This report contains a clarification. 

Less than a month after homeless residents began moving into 91 RVs in Oakland, residents are complaining about electricity that cuts out during the daytime, problems with water leaks and a lack of hand railings on steep steps.

The trailers are part of Operation HomeBase, a safe quarantine site on Hegenberger Road near Oakland International Airport, which city officials established for people over the age of 65 or who have health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.

City officials said they expected some growing pains and are working to correct the problems.

"In setting up a brand new facility from scratch so quickly, we expected adjustments," said Karen Boyd, a city spokesperson. "And [we] are working with residents and maintenance crews to address them."

Oakland resident Delbra Taylor, 68, moved in with her ex-husband on May 11, about a week after the city officially opened the site. It's been one struggle after the other, she said.

When she moved in, she had to buy her own sheets, pillows and towels because there were none there, she said, using her own precious Social Security income on the items.

The RV she was in lacked hot water, so they were moved to another one. The RV she is in now has a leak, so Taylor has been forced to use towels to soak up water that streams from the bathroom sink whenever it's in use.

Two weeks ago, she fractured her arm coming out of her RV because it has no hand rails.

"I told them, I said, 'This is dangerous,' " Taylor said in a phone interview. But, she said, nothing was done. Days later, she slipped.

"My whole body bounced on the ground, and I knew in that moment I was not getting up," she said.

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Then on Saturday, the power started going out during the daytime. Some of the residents are on oxygen tanks, Taylor said, and need a constant source of electricity to power their tanks.

Boyd said site managers were working onsite Wednesday with PG&E and electricians to alleviate the problem.

"Moving unsheltered residents onto a new site with air conditioned units drew more power than expected," Boyd said.

She added that the city is also working collaboratively with the manufacturer of the RVs on how best to install handrails and ensure residents' safety. No other trailer had issues with water leaking, Boyd said.

Derrick Soo, a case manager for people experiencing homelessness at Alameda Health System, posted an interview with one of his clients, Rachel Shook, complaining of similar conditions at Operation HomeBase.

"They aren't really giving us answers on what they are going to do or how they are going to fix it," Shook said in the video posted to YouTube. "So we're just taking it day by day."

Shook, who uses they/them pronouns, stays in the RV with their partner, Gina Shook, 47, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure. Gina relies on an oxygen tank to breathe. On Wednesday afternoon, Soo said Rachel was driving Gina to the hospital because the power had been out in the trailer since the morning.

"The heat inside has dehydrated her, exacerbating her medical situation," Soo said. "She hasn't had the machine to assist her with breathing and she's now almost passed out."

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The new trailers were donated by the state as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom's plan to open more areas for people to self-isolate.

The $1.5 million trailer site can house up to 134 people and costs approximately $1.8 million annually to operate, according to city officials.

It's being funded through California's emergency COVID-19 response funds with a $500,000 grant from Taube Philanthropies. The donation was initially part of a $1.5 million grant pledged in January for an RV site in the same location that would have housed homeless families.

Housing Consortium of the East Bay, a nonprofit homeless services provider that has operated some of the city's Tuff Shed locations, is staffing the RV site. Calls on Wednesday to staff at the nonprofit were not immediately returned.

More than her fractured arm and the leaking trailer, Taylor says it's the heat that bothers her most.

The recent high temperatures, coupled with the fact that the RVs sit on top of an asphalt parking lot with no shade, makes it especially hot inside the trailers.

Taylor said staff at the site told residents to turn off the air conditioning during the day because it was overloading the power supply, she said.

"How do you expect people who have air conditions units to not turn them on?" Taylor said. "(Monday), it was so hot, I felt sick."

June 2nd: Derrick Soo incorrectly identified himself as a caseworker for Alameda Health System. He has since clarified that he is a volunteer caseworker with Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless. He sits on the Co-Applicant Board for the Homeless Health Center at Alameda Health System.