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Judge to Allow Evictions at Long-Running Oakland Homeless Encampment, Residents Vow to Fight

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A white woman with her eyes closed wearing a black sweatshirt and beanie hugs a tearful Black man wearing a gray sweatshirt
Xochtil Bernadette Moreno (left) hugs John Janosko at the Wood Street Commons on Friday. A federal district judge on Friday said he would soon allow the city of Oakland to begin evicting residents of the Commons. (Erin Baldassari/KQED)

Updated 6 p.m. Friday

A federal judge said Friday he would allow the city of Oakland to begin evicting residents of the Wood Street Commons, one of Oakland’s longest-running settlements of unhoused people.

Residents vowed to continue fighting. They were meeting Friday afternoon to determine next steps.

“We’re not getting off this [expletive] property,” LaMonte Ford, an eight-year resident of the Commons said after the hearing. “We are not going nowhere.”

The Commons, home to upward of 60 people, is the last remaining segment of a larger settlement — known simply as Wood Street — that ran parallel to the eponymous street in West Oakland, mostly under the Interstate 880 freeway. The site was once home to an estimated 300 people and stretched for more than 25 city blocks.

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Caltrans evicted the bulk of the residents from land it owns in September. But the Commons, which sits on city-owned land directly across from Raimondi Park, was not part of that effort. In a statement earlier this month, Oakland officials said they want to clear the lot to begin developing 170 units of affordable housing at the site.

The city had planned to begin evicting residents on Jan. 9. But, residents successfully filed for a temporary restraining order, citing the historic storms ravaging the state and the lack of alternative shelter options.

At Friday’s hearing, held via Zoom, residents appealed to District Judge William Orrick to allow them more time to remain, while the city completes constructing a tiny-cabin community a few blocks away. The city received $4.7 million from the state to relocate residents of the Commons to the new tiny-cabin site, which will ultimately have 100 beds. But Oakland attorney Jamilah Jefferson said only 30 spaces will be available by the time evictions are likely to begin and that there would be around 50 by the end of the month.

“All the cabins aren't up there yet,” said Commons resident and organizer John Janosko. “Why can't we wait until it’s fully operational? … It doesn't make any sense.”

Three people with concerned expressions sit together listening: a Black man with dreads wearing a gray hoodie sits next to a Black man wearing a black hoodie, and a white man wearing a multicolored beanie
John Janosko (left), LaMonte Ford (center) and Jaz Colbrini listen to a court hearing, via Zoom, at the Wood Street Commons on Friday. (Erin Baldassari/KQED)

Residents also expressed concerns about the design of the tiny-cabin site. Residents — most of whom live in trailers, RVs or other types of vehicles — won’t be able to bring their trailers with them to the new location. Typical stays are 90 days, with options to extend, but there’s no guarantee of permanent housing.

Brigitte Nicoletti, attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, which is representing residents in the case, told Orrick that presents a difficult choice for residents deciding whether to move in. If they give up their trailers, and ultimately don’t get housing, they could be back on the street without shelter.

“These (tiny-cabin) programs allow for individuals to be removed at the discretion of the service provider,” Nicoletti said. “It's very hard to imagine the amount of risk they'd be placed in to make that decision.”

A female-presenting white woman with long brown hair and a beanie holds her fist to her mouth with a concerned expression while listening
Jessica 'Freeway' Blalock (right), along with other residents and supporters, listens to a court hearing, via Zoom, at the Wood Street Commons on Friday. (Erin Baldassari/KQED)

Nicoletti said residents have also experienced difficult living conditions at other tiny-cabin sites the city operates, including “extended periods of lack of access to basic necessities, like food and electricity and clean drinking water.”

Ford testified at the hearing that he, along with other residents with severe anxiety, PTSD and other mental health conditions, would find it difficult to be placed in such a facility.

“I can't be around too many people, especially strangers,” Ford said. “And it doesn't matter whether you know them or not, they put you together with whoever.”

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Orrick asked the Oakland attorney to describe the accommodations made for people with mental health disabilities. But, she wasn’t able to provide a detailed response.

“To the extent the mental disabilities impact them physically, all of the sites have accessible cabins and accessible bathrooms and showers,” Jefferson told the judge. “I do not know the extent of what the clinical staff provides, but I do know that there is a clinical staff component.”

Ultimately, though, Orrick said the city had met its obligations and that he would allow evictions to commence. His order Friday lifts the restraining order beginning Feb. 10. At that point, the city can begin posting notices of the pending eviction at the site, but must give them at least seven days before evictions can begin.

“The city's obligation is to provide, in this context, the alternative shelter. That's the thing that I have required of them,” Orrick told the residents. “They have done that. It's not preferable for you. But that is what they have now been able to put together.”

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