upper waypoint

Oakland Begins Evicting Unhoused Residents at Wood Street Commons

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

A woman with short, black hair and a purple bandana tied around her forehead looks distraught as tears stream down her cheeks. A crowd of blurred faces are in the background.
Wood Street resident Mayana Sparks cries while watching the city of Oakland begin to evict the encampment in West Oakland on April 10, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

With police officers standing by, city workers began on Monday what will be a two-week process of clearing residents and their belongings from the Wood Street Commons, a longstanding community of unhoused people that, until September, was the city’s largest.

During a press conference held on-site the same morning, Wood Street residents and activists took turns speaking about the evictions taking place.

“We’re trying. We’re doing the best we can. If we had resources, we’d be a whole lot better,” said LaMonte Ford, 48, a longtime resident and lead organizer at Wood Street. “We’re just like you. We’re normal people. I have two jobs. I cannot afford the rent. I’ve been here 10 years. You think I can pack it up in two bags?”

Around 60 people live in RVs and trailers at the site, located at 1707 Wood Street in West Oakland. Residents have built the space into a resource hub, complete with a communal kitchen, outdoor meeting areas, a free store, space for food and clothing donations, storage facilities and other amenities.

A Black man looks through a chain link fence at police officers on the other side of it. The man has a crowd of people behind him as his fingers rest in between the fence coils.
Wood Street resident LaMonte Ford speaks to the police as the city of Oakland begins to evict the Wood Street encampment in Oakland on April 10, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Jean Walsh, spokesperson for the city, said the city is offering residents beds at a new “cabin community” site a few blocks away, as well as parking spaces at a recently opened RV lot in East Oakland and at shelters throughout the city.

As of Monday, Walsh said four residents had agreed to relocate to the new cabin site.

“We’re being cattle-rustled from one camp to another camp, and around and around we go,” Wood Street resident Mavin Carter-Griffin said at the press conference.

Sponsored

“It’s like, ‘Move over, homeless. We’re going to stomp right through this and we’re going to stick you in some sheds,’” Carter-Griffin continued. “Sheds are so six years ago. There are many different types of unhoused people. We’re not the shed type. That wasn’t good for us. … That’s a prison cell.”

A Black police officer is shown standing behind a chain link fence as city workers behind him haul wood and other materials into large garbage trucks.
The city of Oakland works to clear items from the Wood Street encampment in Oakland on April 10, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

More Stories on Wood Street Commons

The city has long planned to redevelop the formerly vacant lot into affordable housing. It purchased the property, which is across from Raimondi Park, in 2007 for $8 million as part of a larger redevelopment of the area that authorized around 1,500 new homes and apartments.

But progress at the lot was delayed for more than a decade, due in part to the 2008 foreclosure crisis and subsequent Great Recession, according to a city report. In 2018, the city selected a developer to build 170 affordable, for-sale and rental apartments at the site.

One housed neighbor, Mo, who declined to give his last name, said he’s lived in the area for 16 years and watched the community at the Commons grow from a few trailers into dozens.

“Everything has become more and more expensive out here. And,  that’s why homeless people cannot afford to live in Oakland and that’s why they are here on the street,” Mo said. “They’ve been here for over ten years, and now they’ve been kicked out so people can build more high rises.”

Officials initially scheduled evictions for Jan. 9, so the developer could start assessing the kind of environmental remediation it needs to build housing there. But residents successfully filed for a temporary restraining order — citing the onslaught of historic storms and lack of adequate alternative housing as grounds to delay.

The city received two state grants last year, totaling $8.3 million, to relocate residents to a new cabin community site at 2601 Wood Street in Oakland, consisting of 70 “tuff shed” structures with space for 100 beds. But the site hadn’t yet opened when the city issued its eviction orders, and Federal District Judge William Orrick ordered the city to delay evictions until it had.

A Black woman with a black headdress and T-shirt looks heartbroken as she stares downward. Two men, one Black and one white-presenting, are pictured behind her.
Wood Street residents John Janosko and Mona Choyce listen to an outreach worker talk about the tuff sheds in Oakland on April 10, 2023, while the city of Oakland begins to evict the encampment. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“Give us some real options. Instead of putting us in the cycle of being housed — get us housed,” said Jessica “Freeway” Blalock, a Wood Street resident, who had a bad experience at a different “community cabin” site in Oakland. “With all of the vacant lots and all the vacant houses that are here, there’s no reason all of us couldn’t be housed — and then some.”

In a Feb. 24 court filing, Supervising Deputy City Attorney Jamilah Jefferson wrote that the city had opened the community cabin site and had RV parking spaces available. Orrick lifted the restraining order three days later.

On Monday, volunteers and advocates were on site to assist residents with moving. Kelly Thompson, 75, who is himself homeless in Oakland, sat in his truck.

“I’m waiting on somebody to say, ‘I need a tow,'” he said. “But where are they supposed to go? Where do they want to go? There’s no place to go.”

The Commons is the last remaining portion of the much larger Wood Street settlement, which, until last year, was home to around 300 people. It stretched for more than a mile under Interstate 880 on land owned by Caltrans, BNSF railway, private individuals and the city of Oakland. In September, Caltrans evicted residents from the land it owns, citing safety concerns, after a fire on July 11 sent plumes of black smoke onto the freeway above, stopping traffic.

Considered one of the largest encampments in Northern California, Wood Street grew over the course of a decade. Many residents said that, by at least 2019, city workers and police officers were directing them to Wood Street after they had been evicted from other encampments in the city.

“When we asked the cops who were telling us to move where we should go, they said, ‘On the other side of that fence,’ and pointed to the fence that separated where we were from the BNSF lands,” said Matthew Schatzinger, 45, who moved to the settlement in 2019.

In an interview that year with KPIX News, former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf defended the city’s actions, saying, “We don’t have a permanent place for that encampment yet, so you will see us use interim measures because we don’t have enough beds.”

Although Wood Street residents such as Blalock were not removed from the site on Monday, the process will be ongoing during the next two weeks.

“Destroying this community, taking down the buildings in this community, is only going to change the scenery,” she said. “The people that are here. The community that’s here. The family that’s here. … That’s not going anywhere.”

Sponsored

lower waypoint
next waypoint
How a Pivotal Case on Homelessness Could Redefine Policies in California and the NationAfter Parole, ICE Deported This Refugee Back to a Country He Never KnewCalifornia Pet Owners Could Rent Apartments More Easily Under New BillAngela Davis and Black Student Leaders Talk Social Justice at Alameda High School EventHave We Entered Into a New Cold War Era?California Court to Weigh In on Fight Over Transgender Ballot Measure Proposal LanguageGoogle Worker Says the Company Is 'Silencing Our Voices' After Dozens Are FiredNewsom Promises to Get Tough With Local Homeless ProgramsKQED Youth Takeover: How Social Media is Changing Political AdvertisingCould Protesters Who Shut Down Golden Gate Bridge Be Charged With False Imprisonment?