Caltrans announced that it will begin closure of the sprawling Wood Street homeless encampment beginning next Wednesday. The agency has been under increasing pressure to act after a series of fires that have impacted the regions’ highway infrastructure including a two-alarm blaze last Monday that closed sections of the MacArthur Maze to vehicle traffic for hours.
The encampment area that spans approximately 25 city blocks has been the site of an estimated 90 fires in a 12 months span according to Oakland Fire Department spokesperson Michael Hunt.
The area was singled out as “cruel and inhumane” in a 2018 United Nations General Assembly report (pg. 12) likening it to among the most impoverished areas of the entire world.
The department posted notices around the site on July 15 and will begin closing the encampment in phases beginning July 20. They expect completion of the closure by the first week of August.
“Caltrans’ responsibility is to ensure the safety of the traveling public and to protect and maintain California’s highway infrastructure,” they detailed in a press release. “The department is taking this action to address the increasingly serious safety risks to life, property and infrastructure at the encampment, including from the fire this week that prompted the closure of the MacArthur Maze.”
Caltrans is coordinating the closure with the City of Oakland and Alameda County so that the nearly 200 people estimated to be living at the site have access to shelter beds. Additional rooms are expected to be made available by late summer.
The recently enacted 2022-23 state budget includes an additional $3.4 billion over three years to build on the $12 billion multi-year investment in Governor Gavin Newsom’s California Comeback Plan by continuing progress on expanding behavioral health housing, encampment cleanup grants and support for local government efforts.
Of the $700 million included for encampment resolution grants, $350 million will be available to assist people living on the state right-of-way.
As the SF Chronicle piece noted, it’s unclear if the clearing will impact the entire camp or just the areas owned by the agency. Occupiers of the camp have expressed resistance to leaving the area setting up a possible showdown with local authorities.
The agency recently published a detailed FAQ addressing questions by stakeholders including dwellers of the encampment.
July 19 update per The Oaklandside reporter Natalie Orenstein: U.S. district court Judge William H. Orrick has granted Wood Street residents a temporary restraining order prohibiting the planned closure of the camp.
Feature image: Drone footage of the sprawling camp was captured on waajidsvideo YouTube channel.