The City of Oakland will open its latest “cabin community” site on a Caltrans owned parcel along Mandela Parkway next week. The site will also include a space for homeless RV dwellers.
The pilot “Tuff Shed” program at 6th & Brush wrapped up in January after the one year lease with a private landowner ended. The program was deemed a success and the city has gone on to open three more sites spread throughout the city. The City is looking to build on the program’s success and learn from its challenges.
The ambition of the program is to pull occupants of tent encampments off the streets and help them transition into more stable housing options. When all phases are complete, the Mandela Parkway site is expected to accommodate about 78 members of our unhoused community and 17 RV’s. The Mandela site will be the largest of the five sites currently being operated by the City of Oakland.
This action couldn’t have come at a better time as the situation behind Home Depot have gotten so dire, an Oakland Councilmember has cited letters by their management as concern that they are considering closing the store.
Once those living in the tents are transitioned to these cabins, a no camping policy at the previous sites is expected to be enforced. “These aren’t just designed to help the homeless community, they’re designed to help the entire community,” City of Oakland Assistant to the City Administrator Joe DeVries explained noting the impact on the surrounding area. DeVries’ role includes managing homeless outreach for the Oakland.
Delays & Bureaucracy Overcome
The project has been in the works for some time and was expected to open earlier this year. The state legislature needed to first pass a law that allows cities to lease land from Caltrans for less than the “market rate.” The amended law allows the City of Oakland to lease the property from CalTrans for $1/month which helps stretch the budget of program.
The project has had to overcome its share of regulatory hurdles as well including conforming to regulations by the HCD including ADA accessibility. The project also had to gain approval by the City of Oakland’s Planning Commission and the site had to be inspected by the DTSC for soil contamination. In addition, the structures must be outfitted with smoke detectors and exterior fire extinguishers required by the County fire inspector.
35th & Magnolia and Home Depot Encampments Targeted
The first phase will accommodate the unhoused residents of the 35th & Magnolia camp under I-580 and the second will be made available to the occupants behind the Emeryville Home Depot. There have been previous attempts to manage the 35th & Magnolia camp, but the outcomes have had limited success. “It’s a challenging population,” DeVries noted.
Contrary to popular belief, the structures are not “Tuff Shed” brand but built by California Sheds. The sheds are solidly built with insulation and double-pane windows to protect occupants from the winter and summer elements. They can accommodate two residents each.
Resident’s of the camps sign an agreement that they will adhere to certain behavioral policies. The site will have a full-time case manager with services provided by Emeryville-based Operation Dignity. The site will have 24/7 security, dumpsters, porta-potties, wash stations and serviced by a mobile shower and hygiene unit called Lava Mae.
We welcomed Mayor Libby Schaaf to our new Oakland shower trailer, and we’re grateful to @KPSCALnews for making our expansion possible! Our unique public–private–nonprofit sector collaboration means Lava Mae can deliver hygiene, dignity + hope to Oakland’s unsheltered residents. pic.twitter.com/jTyeqbaEtg
— Lava Mae (@LavaMae) May 8, 2018
To Include Second Safe RV Pilot Parking Program
The City of Oakland is also looking to open a separate “RV dweller park” that would accommodate 17 vehicles. Oakland opened its pilot Safe RV parking program in East Oakland last month.
The adjoining parcel along Beach Street will provide space and hookups for RVs dwellers currently parked near the Ramondi Park and Wood Street area.
Neighbors Cautiously Optimistic
The program also hopes to provide relief to the neighborhoods that have been impacted by the crisis including frequent fires, piles of trash, rodents and piles of hypodermic needles.
“I was skeptical at first,” noted a neighbor that observed the outcome of the Northgate camp. “After they put up the [Tuff] Sheds at 27th street, there were way less street campers in the area.” Others noted that those campers who refused the program just moved to other parts of the neighborhood.
City Touts Success of the Program
DeVries notes a large percentage of successful outcomes from the program that he estimates is approaching 70%. Outcomes that include being placed in transitional and supportive housing programs.
The 30% of “negative” outcomes include those who abandon the sites because of restrictions or are kicked out when they won’t conform to the established rules.
DeVries notes that this is merely an intervention, and not a long-term solution to the areas growing Homeless Crisis. “We’re just trying to keep our head above water on this,” DeVries noted citing recent data provided by the county showing a startling 43% increase in homelessness in Alameda County in 2018. “Long term, we need to change our zoning laws, discourage NIMYism and figure out ways to spur building more affordable and supportive housing.”
Today we opened the Mandela Community Cabin Site through a cross regional collaborative effort between Oakland + Emeryville + Caltrans. The site will house up to 80 residents. This compassionate + effective service will increase the health + safety for our unsheltered neighbors. pic.twitter.com/evaID5ZPyD
— Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) July 3, 2019
“We are getting people off the sidewalk and into safety services so they go to bed at night behind a locked door with their partners pets and possessions.” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf noted at a press event at the site. “This is dignity and this is effectiveness.”
Schaaf went on to praise the project as a ”collaborative” effort by her city, Emeryville, Caltrans.
First Move-In Phase Expected on July 8th
The City of Oakland began a 4-6 week outreach process with the occupants being informing that their camps will be dismantled and they will be transitioned to the new site. After the transition happens, the sites will be secured and a no camping policy will be enforced by CHP, OPD and Caltrans.
DeVries expects a “soft opening” for the first pod on July 8th followed by the opening of the second pod in early August.
The arrangement with Caltrans includes a one year lease with the opportunity to renew for two additional years. As these occupants are transitioned out, there is hope that occupants of the nearby Wood Street encampment might be transitioned in.
Target, Sutter Health, Home Depot Foundation and the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce all contributed funding to the project including volunteer hours. $1.7 million is allocated for annual operational costs for the site which is funded by California’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program.
The City of Emeryville contributed a small amount to the effort by allocating funds it received from its state Homeless Emergency Aid Program.
This story has been updated to include information about the costs and contributors to the program.