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Cob Structures House Kitchen, Clinic, Shower, in West Oakland Homeless Community



A community kitchen, clinic, toilet and shower made out of cob and wood sit under the 880 Freeway within a homeless community west of Wood Street in West Oakland on April 18.

Members of three organizations – Artists Building Communities, Essential Food and Medicine, and Living Earth Structures – have built a kitchen, clinic, free store, stage, toilet, oven, and shower with and for a homeless community near Wood Street in West Oakland.

Made out of wood covered in brown cob, the structures that house these facilities seem almost as natural extensions of the earth upon which they sit. Empty wine bottles serve as windows, and old discarded clothes serve as insulation. Sculpted images of trees decorate the structures’ surfaces and succulent plants sprout along the perimeters of their roofs. 

Winding stone pathways connect the structures and are bordered by little gardens of herbs, greens, and flowers. The kitchen has a stove, sink with running water, shelving full of bread, and a refrigerator full of food. Herbs and emergency medical supplies fill the clinic. The shower’s water runs hot. 

The project is called Cob on Wood. It sits on land owned by, west of Wood Street, and under the 880 freeway. 

A community of homeless residents lives near Cob on Wood, surrounding the site. Advocates and some residents estimate the population of that community to be about 100 people. The area west of Wood Street in West Oakland that the community lives in does not receive regular sanitation service from the City of Oakland, and much of it is densely packed with abandoned vehicles and garbage. 

With regular maintenance by those living inside and outside of the homeless community, the Cob on Wood site looks different from its surroundings, like a rose that grows out of a crack in the concrete.

“This was built through relationships with the community and came out of requests from the community,” said Xochitl Bernadette Moreno, co-founder of Essential Food and Medicine (EFAM).

EFAM started building relationships with Wood Street residents early in the COVID-19 pandemic by giving them juice, soups, and natural medicines made from local produce. Artists Building Community (ABC) also started early in the pandemic, when Annemarie Bustamante and some of her neighbors living in The Vulcan Loft apartments in East Oakland started building small wooden homes for homeless Oakland residents. 

ABC has expanded now to include volunteers throughout the area, and they have built several of their homes in the Wood Street community. But the structures at Cob on Wood-look different from ABC’s homes. 

ABC and EFAM came together to contract with Miguel Elliot of Living Earth Structures to guide the building of Cob on Wood structures using cob. The group benefited from Elliot’s experience of building cob structures for over 25 years in a variety of settings and locations, including parts of Central and South America, Africa, and Asia.

While the groups have followed Elliot’s construction guidance, they also followed nearby homeless residents’ service requests, whose first request was a kitchen. Elliot’s cob construction made the kitchen safe from catching fire, as the cob is fireproof. 

Such precautions were necessary. Oakland’s fire department responded to almost 1,000 fires in homeless communities during fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-20.

LeaJay Harper, who has lived in the Wood Street community for over seven years, now restocks the kitchen every few days and also cooks for herself and other residents.

“It’s been a challenge trying to keep food in the kitchen because people are definitely using it,” said Harper. “It’s made it so that folks who didn’t have the facilities at their own space to cook can have hot food every single day. A lot of people are gaining weight, which is a good thing.”

Harper works and meets closely with ABC and EFAM to plan food pickups. Other homeless residents have taken on roles in the community as well. A resident named Lydia, who lives in an RV near the community and is knowledgeable about medicinal uses of herbs, is the community clinic liaison. She helps spread information about ways residents can use the clinic’s herbs. 

Raquel, a teenager who lives with her family in the Wood Street community, helps with outreach to inform other residents about Cob on Wood services and events. Another teenager, Sequoia, who used to live on Wood Street, is also part of Cob on Wood’s outreach team.

“I think being part of [Cob on Wood] is really amazing,” Sequoia said. “Most of my life I was homeless and being able to give back to the community now that I’m not on the streets means a lot to me.”

The idea for the community started in September of last year, and construction started in December. The project has been growing. These days, Moreno says about 50 people meet online on Wednesdays to formally plan and maintain the project. 

On Sundays, the group meets more informally on site for construction, site maintenance, a pizza party, and an open mic. The vast majority of people involved with the project still live outside of the Wood Street community, but the word is spreading. 

Cob on Wood volunteers go into the Wood Street community and hand out flyers about the project. On Sunday, April 18, they hosted an Earth Day celebration called “What’s Your Medicine?” with food, DJs, dance, and musical performances. 

At least 100 people showed up to the event. One Wood Street resident who lives in a self-made home said he had never heard of Cob on Wood before but followed the sound of the music and found it.

 Ashel Seasunz Eldridge, who co-founded EFAM, and performed at the Earth Day celebration with his band, Dogon Lights, said that Cob on Wood seeks to build on work that Wood St residents already are doing. During the Earth Day celebration, when Cob on Wood had a Town Hall to discuss how the project could sustain itself and better serve the community, five Wood Street residents took the lead, speaking to each other and the crowd through a PA system. 

Those residents have been meeting weekly in another part of the Wood Street community.

“We were inspired by the meetings people were already having,” said Eldridge. “We thought, why not bring that to the town hall.”

One topic Wood Street residents spoke about was defending themselves and other people experiencing homelessness from displacement. It was something Cob on Wood organizers found pertinent, as they worry that the site, which sits on CalTrans owned land, could face displacement from that state agency.

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle cites CalTrans spokesperson RocQuel Johnson as claiming the agency plans to clear “abandoned vehicles and liter” from CalTrans land near Wood Street in May and June, claiming similar actions were executed on April 12 and  April13. 

ABC founder Annmarie Bustamante was at the Wood Street homeless community on those days and claims CalTrans forced people to move themselves and their homes from the location they lived to an area more out of sight of a nearby street. 

Abandoned vehicles, Bustamante claims, were not removed from the Wood Street homeless community but were moved to a separate area still within that community. She said the operation did not remove trash but displaced people.

Although this reporter asked CalTrans about the April 12 and 13 operations, the agency did not respond. But Johnson told the SF Chronicle that “[Cob on Wood] structures were placed on state right of way without a permit or without safety inspections,” and added that “CalTrans is currently evaluating the best course of action and has no immediate plans to remove the structures.”

Cob on Wood organizers is unclear about whether CalTrans will remove their structures. The state agency cleared homeless people off their land in Oakland on Sept. 21 last year and late January this year. During the January operation, a group of advocates, 10 of whom carried colorful shields, defended the self-made home of two Oakland residents living on the land bordering Mosswood Park and the 580 Freeway. 

While nearly 20 of their neighbors cleared themselves from the CalTrans-owned land they were living on, the two residents never left the area, and their home was not dismantled. 

Bustamante, who was at the January CalTrans operation supporting eviction defense, is also prepared to defend Cob on Wood if necessary. Defending space through direct action is a topic of steady conversation among those involved with Cob on Wood.

“If CalTrans does try to displace us at Wood Street without allowing for other adequate resources, there’s gonna be a fight,” said Bustamante.

Cob on Wood wants to expand to include a sauna and small huts for homeless residents. They are seeking funds to help their project, to help pay for construction costs, materials and stipends for homeless residents who help with the project.

Readers can donate to their gofundme campaign.


Oakland Post: Week of May 24 – 30, 2023

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of May 24 – 30, 2023



The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of May 24 - 30, 2023

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Rise in Abductions of Black Girls in Oakland Alarms Sex-Trafficking Survivors

Nola Brantley of Nola Brantley Speaks states, “America’s wider culture and society has consistently failed to address the abduction and kidnapping of Black girls in Oakland and across the country, and this lack of concern empowers and emboldens predators.”



Nola Brantley and Sarai Smith-Mazariegos
Nola Brantley and Sarai Smith-Mazariegos

By Tanya Dennis

Within the last 30 days there have been seven attempted kidnappings or successful abductions of Black girls in Oakland.

Survivors of human trafficking who are now advocates are not surprised.

Nor were they surprised that the police didn’t respond, and parents of victims turned to African American community-based organizations like Adamika Village and Love Never Fails for help.

Advocates say Black and Brown girls disappear daily, usually without a blip on the screen for society and government officials.

Perhaps that will change with a proposed law by state Senator Steven Bradford’s Senate Bill 673 Ebony Alert, that, if passed, will alert people when Black people under the age of 26 go missing.

According to the bill, Black children are disproportionately classified as “runaways” in comparison to their white counterparts which means fewer resources are dedicated to finding them.

Nola Brantley of Nola Brantley Speaks states, “America’s wider culture and society has consistently failed to address the abduction and kidnapping of Black girls in Oakland and across the country, and this lack of concern empowers and emboldens predators.”

Brantley, a survivor of human trafficking has been doing the work to support child sex trafficking victims for over 20 years, first as the director for the Scotlan Youth and Family Center’s Parenting and Youth Enrichment Department at Oakland’s DeFremery Park, and as one of the co-founders and executive director of Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth (MISSSEY, Inc.)

“It really hit home in 2010,” said Brantley, “before California’s Welfare Institution Code 300 was amended to include children victimized by sex trafficking.”

Before that law was amended, she had to vehemently advocate for Black and Brown girls under the age of 18 to be treated as victims rather than criminalized.

Brantley served hundreds of Black and Brown girls citing these girls were victims so they would be treated as such and offered restorative services. “To get the police to take their disappearances seriously and file a report almost never happened,” she said.

Then Brantley received a call from the Board of Supervisors regarding a “special case.”  A councilman was at the meeting, as well as a member of former Alameda County Board Supervisor Scott Haggerty’s Office who had called Brantley to attend.

“The child’s parents and the child were there also.  They requested that I give my full attention to this case.  The girl was white and there was no question of her victimization,” Brantley said.

Brantley felt conflicted that of all the hundreds of Black and Brown girls she’d served, none had ever received this type of treatment.

Her eyes were opened that day on how “they” move, therefore with the recent escalation of kidnapping attempts of Black girls, Brantley fears that because it’s happening to Black girls the response will not be taken seriously.

Councilmember Treva Reid

Councilwoman Treva Reid

“I thank Councilwoman Treva Reid and Senator Steven Bradford (D) for pushing for the passing of the Ebony Alert Bill across the state so that the disappearance of Black girls will be elevated the same as white girls. We’ve never had a time when Black girls weren’t missing.  Before, it didn’t matter if we reported it or if the parents reported the police failed to care.”

Senator Steven Bradford

Senator Steven Bradford

Sarai S-Mazariegos, co-founder of M.I.S.S.S.E.Y, and founder and executive director of Survivors Healing, Advising and Dedicated to Empowerment (S.H.A.D.E.) agrees with Brantley.

“What we are experiencing is the effects of COVID-19, poverty and a regressive law that has sentence the most vulnerable to the sex trade,” S-Mazariegos said. “We are seeing the lack of equity in the community, the cause and consequence of gender inequality and a violation of our basic human rights. What we are seeing is sexual exploitation at its finest.”

Both advocates are encouraged by Bradford’s Ebony Alert.

The racism and inequity cited has resulted in the development of an underground support system by Brantley, S-Mazariegos and other community-based organizations who have united to demand change.

Thus far they are receiving support from Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, and Oakland City Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas and Reid of the second and seventh districts respectively.

For more information, go to

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The Case Against SB357: Black, Vulnerable and Trafficked

on April 25, the committee approved Senate Bill 14 which would make human trafficking of minors a felony and strikable offense forcing exploiters to serve 80% of their sentence.



Nola Brantley is the co-founder of MISSSEY. Photo courtesy of Nola Brantley.
Nola Brantley is the co-founder of MISSSEY. Photo courtesy of Nola Brantley.

PART 8 – Come Back to Humanity

Although California Senate Bill 357 was intended to alleviate arrests of willing sex workers under anti-loitering laws, The Black, Vulnerable and Exploited series has established that passing SB 357 and other similar legislation harms Black communities, one of the most vulnerable and traumatized groups in America.

Over the past several weeks, overwhelming evidence against SB 357 has been presented showing why sex trafficking disproportionately impacts the Black community and how decriminalizing sex buying and exploitation will further harm vulnerable Black communities.

By Tanya Dennis and Vanessa Russell

One year and one day after Blair Williams had killed herself by walking into traffic on a busy freeway, her sister, Brianna Williams, testified before the California Senate Public Safety Committee on the horrors of sex-trafficking.

Soon after, on April 25, the committee approved Senate Bill 14 which would make human trafficking of minors a felony and strikable offense forcing exploiters to serve 80% of their sentence.

Passed with bi-partisan support in the committee, the bill means a lot to people who have been trafficked as it shows that the punishment for trafficking will be equal to the crime.

Currently, exploiters who receive 10 years for trafficking a minor may be able to get out in as little as two years. This practice of letting someone out after selling a child has created apathy among survivors who wonder if anyone understands the pain and torture they endure. The unanimous acceptance of this bill in committee is helping survivors to feel protected and valuable.

Led by Senator Aisha Wahab, the committee, which included senators Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, Steven Bradford, Senator Scott D. Wiener and Oakland’s Nancy Skinner, unanimously passed the bill written by Senator Shannon Grove.

At the hearing, Brianna Williams, a Black 28-year-old woman who was sex-trafficked in Oakland at the age of 13, shared the story of her sister Blair, who was terrorized, raped, and tortured by her exploiter.

Suffering a mental break, Blair walked onto a freeway where she was instantly killed on April 24, 2022.

Williams described Blair as a beautiful young lady, who was an avid reader and creative who loved to play with her niece and nephews and aspired to be an attorney. Blair died at the age of 23. Many senators teared up as they contemplated the torture Blair endured.

At the age of 17, Williams was able to exit with the help of nonprofits and churches who invested in her life, providing workforce development, education, mentoring, and legal help.

To address the harm that is being done to vulnerable people such as Black girls, anti-trafficking organizations are asking leaders and legislators and even proponents of full decriminalization for sex work to ‘come back to humanity’ and reconsider an ‘equity model’ that decriminalizes the exploited but maintains accountability for the buyers and exploiters.

The equity model would also provide funded exit services including mental health, housing, workforce development, and legal services for the exploited. These services would provide an opportunity for the trafficked to start again, an opportunity that 76% of women, men and transgendered people are asking for.

However, making buyers and exploiters accountable does not mean applying blanket life sentences.

Human trafficking cannot be ‘criminalized’ away, supporters of the new bill say, and instead they call for thoughtfulness and empathy regarding the intentions of those involved and ask tough questions.

Many exploiters have been abused and groomed into becoming exploiters in the same way the exploited are.

There are early intervention diversion programs that can help first-time sex buyers and exploiters take ownership for the harm they have caused, process the root of their behavior, and begin to heal and change.

Giving buyers and exploiters a platform to be accountable and make amends improves their lives, the lives of the families they are also harming, and hopefully bring some healing to the harmed.

Nola Brantley, a survivor, co-founder of Motivating, Inspiring Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth (MISSSEY), and CEO of Nola Brantley Speaks says, “As service providers, we must unite and support one another because this is very important and hard. We can’t do it alone. We need each other and the community needs us to be in solidarity!”

For more information, go to ResearchGate and Layout 1 (

To get involved, join Violence Prevention Coalition for a City Wide Peace Summit on June 24th from 10:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. at Laney College in Oakland. To register, go to

Tanya Dennis serves on the Board of Oakland Frontline Healers (OFH) and series co-author Vanessa Russell of “Love Never Fails Us” and member of OFH.

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