The California Department of Transportation (District 4), the Oakland Police Department, and the California Highway Patrol have continually harassed homeless people in Oakland. Over the last month, the West Oakland Wood Street Community, which consists of nearly 200 residents, has received threats of losing property and having their vehicles towed. The particular area in question is the southern portion of the Wood Street Community on Caltrans owned land beneath the I-80 freeway.
Many of the current residents of the Wood Street Community were once renters and homeowners in the City of Oakland. People come to Wood Street when they have no other place to go. For years the Oakland Police Department has had an unofficial policy of directing people to move to Wood Street who live in their vehicles or who have been cleared out of other homeless encampments.
At the beginning of June, Wood Street Community residents residing on Caltrans land were told that they would have to relocate or risk losing all of their possessions in the scheduled “cleaning.” When residents asked where they were to relocate, the Oakland Police Department told folks to move one block away on West Grand Ave and Wood St. Oddly enough, many residents had already been pushed off that very corner a few months ago! The City of Oakland and the State of California has offered a solution that is not a solution at all. In fact, it is an extremely serious health risk.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, people are being told to shelter-in-place and maintain a safe distance from others. But when it comes to homeless folks, the city has no problem with forcing dozens of residents to cram themselves into an area consisting of less than 100 feet of curb. These living conditions put people at extreme risk by increasing their chances of contracting the COVID-19 virus. This lack of humanity on the part of the City of Oakland is unsurprising given that the city has made no attempt to protect the Wood Street Community by providing basic sanitation to combat the virus. It has fallen into the hands of residents and organizations such as the United Front Against Displacement and the Berkeley Free Clinic to work to improve basic sanitation resources in the area in an attempt to protect residents and prevent the spread of the virus.
The eviction led by Caltrans is part of a larger strategy to get rid of all homeless people living on land owned by the State of California in West Oakland. This is in contradiction with the State’s goal to get people off of the streets into long term housing because breaking up encampments make it harder for people to get off the street. This is why the United Front Against Displacement called for an eviction defense to come to the aid of residents.
Despite the fact that a few residents were illegally coerced into moving, there was no significant loss of property. This should be viewed as a major success given that at the beginning of the month OPD tagged over a dozen vehicles to have towed if they did not move from the area. This is an extreme threat being that people use their vehicles to live in, commute to work, and run essential errands. This threat is unsurprising given that the police constantly harass and terrorize poor homeless people, especially during the pandemic.
While the eviction defense was an overall success, it is important to recognize that this is just the first stage of Caltrans’s attempts to displace residents on Wood St. They will be back in the near future to either finish evicting residents on the southern end, or force residents on the northern section of Caltrans land to move. If they are successful in their next operation it will be a step closer to displacing the entire Wood Street Community, which has perilous implications not only for the residents of Wood St., but all houseless and vehicularly housed people in Oakland. It is imperative that we come together to push back against the government’s attempts to displace working people. If we work together, we can not only fight back more effectively, but stop any and all attacks against the working people of the Bay Area.