Unhoused Residents Forced to Leave Smaller West Oakland Property Following Wood Street Evictions

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

A man clears weeds in a vacant lot.
LaMonte Ford clears weeds from a vacant lot on 34th Street and Mandela Parkway in West Oakland on Oct. 10, 2022. More than a dozen residents relocated to the lot on Sunday after being displaced from the nearby Wood Street encampment. (Erin Baldassari/KQED)

Update, 5 p.m. Wednesday:
On Wednesday, California Highway Patrol officers escorted more than a dozen unhoused people off of a vacant Caltrans lot in West Oakland, just days after they had occupied it. Four activists trying to block officers from entering the lot were arrested and later released. Spokespeople for Caltrans and the city of Oakland said they are in talks about using other Caltrans properties as shelter sites, but did not provide specific details.

Original story, 11 a.m. Tuesday:
More than a dozen unhoused residents this weekend moved to a vacant lot in West Oakland following recent evictions from the Wood Street encampment — which was, until recently, the city’s largest.

The residents are hoping the city of Oakland will lease the lot — at 34th Street and Mandela Parkway — from Caltrans to relieve overcrowding on city streets, where residents have moved following the evictions. But it’s still unclear whether that will happen. On Monday, California Highway Patrol officers informed residents they would have one week to leave the site.

“They’re pushing us to nowhere,” said Wood Street resident LaMonte Ford from behind a chain-link fence protecting the site, which residents had locked to bar the officers from entering. “We have nowhere to go.”

At its height, the former Wood Street encampment stretched the length of more than 15 city blocks underneath the I-880 overpass in West Oakland, along the Union Pacific and BNSF Railway, on land owned by Caltrans, the city of Oakland, BNSF and private parties.

In early September, Caltrans began evicting the estimated 300 people who lived there. The move came after a nearly month-long delay, prompted by a lawsuit residents filed against the transportation agency.

related coverage

A federal judge ultimately lifted the temporary restraining order, citing safety concerns, and ordered Caltrans to work with the city of Oakland and Alameda County to offer alternative housing options to Wood Street residents.

As of Monday, 241 people had been offered lodging at Oakland’s community cabin "tuff shed" sites, congregate shelters, transitional housing and RV parking programs, according to Jerri Randrup, spokesperson for the county’s Health Care Services Agency. But only 90 have accepted those offers, she said.

Of those who did not, many have relocated elsewhere in the immediate vicinity — either to adjacent side streets or other vacant lots.

A man puts some items onto a truck
Ben Murawski fills a truck with his belongings in an attempt to remove the items from an area being cleared by Caltrans at the Wood Street encampment in Oakland on Sept. 8, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Ben Murawski, 47, who lived in an RV at Wood Street for the past two years, was one of the first to be evicted. He moved a few blocks down the road, before relocating this weekend to the lot at 34th Street.

Ford said the idea to move there came from conversations with local city officials. He said he received a handshake agreement from Oakland City Administrator Ed Reiskin, allowing former Wood Street residents to move in.

At maximum capacity, Ford said the site could accommodate about 20 to 25 people.

“They were already discussing this lot as a possibility for us,” Ford said, adding, “With no place to go and [us] spilling into the streets, we kind of just expedited things, if you will.”

A spokesperson for the city did not respond to a request for comment to confirm that agreement. Janis Mara, a spokesperson for Caltrans, said the agency was in talks with the city “regarding leasing available land for people experiencing homelessness,” but she declined to say whether that available land included the lot in question.

More than a dozen unhoused residents from the former Wood Street encampment moved to a vacant lot in West Oakland, Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. (Erin Baldassari/KQED)

Some neighbors, however, appeared caught off guard by the move. Kathy Kuhner, who lives in the area and owns an adjacent lot, said she was concerned about the possibilities of fires, noise and trash.

“We have a really terrible homeless problem here in Oakland,” she said. “But the solution isn't to have the homeless people break into other people's properties. That can't be the solution.”

The Oakland City Council last week directed staff to pursue the option of using 8 acres at the former Oakland Army Base to house up to 300 people, including many of those displaced from the Wood Street encampment. Reiskin is expected to report back to the Council by October 18 on how to clear regulatory hurdles that would enable the city to allow people to live there, despite toxic soil and groundwater conditions.

But Ford and other residents say they don’t have the luxury of waiting for the city to make those decisions.

“We're not trying to step on anyone's toes,” Ford said. “But we are trying to stay safe.”

KQED’s Vanessa Rancaño contributed reporting to this story.