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Oakland to Determine Shelter Options for Evicted Homeless People in New Year

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During a meeting on December 15, Oakland’s City Council discussed defining what shelter options Oakland would be required to offer homeless people if the city clears their communities during the local emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They postponed making a final decision on the matter until the new year. Given dangers posed by the pandemic, the City Council will determining whether it sees it as safe for homeless people to live in homeless shelters.

The City Council unanimously approved the Encampment Management Policy (EMP) on October 20, which set clear parameters for where the City could choose to focus clearances. The resolution stated people living within 50 feet of a residence, business, park or sports court could face eviction. But the EMP did not overturn a resolution Council also unanimously passed on March 27 that requests that the City only execute evictions if “individual housing units or alternative shelter is provided.”

City Administrator Edward Reiskin has proposed using its Community Cabin Program (informally known as the Tuff Shed Program), Safe Parking Lots, trailers operated through Operation HomeBase, limited transitional and permanent housing units, and “congregate shelter with reduced capacity and physical distancing measures.” But in an agenda memorandum, City Council Pres. Rebecca Kaplan and District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunado-Bas requested the City “not consider congregate shelter as a form of alternative shelter.”

Kaplan and Bas’ proposed changes to Reiskin’s plan claim that “moving or relocating from an outdoor encampment to an indoor congregate shelter places people at a greater risk for COVID-19 transmission then they would be in by living in an outdoor encampment.” They pointed out COVID-19 outbreaks that have occurred in homeless shelters in San Francisco, Spokane, Wash., Salem, Ore., and Calgary in the Alberta, Canada.

“There’s a number of things we’re doing to try to make congregate shelter as safe as it can be,” said Lara Tannenbaum, of Oakland’s Human Services Dept. during the meeting in response to Kaplan and Bas’ proposal. Tannenbaum as well and Homelessness Administrator Daryel Dunston said the City’s homeless shelters have PPE, use symptom and temperature checks, reduce capacity and carry out COVID testing events.

But even under reduced capacity, the Kaplan and Bas’ memorandum claims that congregate shelter is not a safe option during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People living in congregate settings comprise less than 1% of the U.S. population, but nearly 50% of coronavirus deaths,” Kaplan and Bas wrote in their proposal.

During the meeting, District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb asked what specifically Kaplan and Bas’s proposal would change in Reiskin’s proposal. Kaplan responded by saying that it would strike the line that allowed “congregate shelter with reduced capacity.” Bas concurred and added she wanted to expand on language in Reiskin’s proposal that required “reasonable accommodation for mental and physical disabilities.”

On their website, the Center for Disease Control has used the terms “congregate shelter” and “shared shelter” interchangeably. But Kaplan and Bas’ proposed changes focus specifically on homeless shelters, and instead uses the terms “congregate shelter” and “homeless shelter” interchangeably. Their changes, as they currently stand, would effectively ban homeless shelters as an “alternative shelter” option but “shared shelter” would still be allowed.

They have not proposed striking out language that includes the City’s Community Cabins Program as an “alternative shelter” option. The Cabins are shared housing as they require residents to share 8-by-12 foot structures with a roommate.

Council ended their discussion of Bas and Kaplan’s proposed changes when Bas proposed a motion to continue the decision until the next City Council meeting, requesting time to clarify their changes and consider amendments and questions Kalb proposed. The continuance means that exiting Councilmembers Lynette Gibson-McElhaney and Larry Reid will not vote on the proposed changes while entering Councilmembers Carroll Fife and Treva Reid will.

Homeless Resident Pastor Preston’s Experience, and Proposed Alternative Solutions from the Community:

Preston Walker, a 63-year-old Oakland native and unhoused resident better known as “Pastor Preston,” has lived in a Days Inn hotel room through a state and county funded program called Project Roomkey. He qualified to obtain the room, which is neither congregate nor shared shelter, but a private unit, due to an immune disorder that makes him more susceptible to pneumonia and COVID-19.

“This hotel here is a blessing for me,” said Preston. “This is the first time eight years that I had my own personal space where I didn’t have to worry about theft. The sad thing is if it wasn’t for the virus this never would have happened.”

Preston, who has spent time in both the Community Cabins and homeless shelters in Oakland and throughout the Bay Area, expressed skepticism of sharing space with people during the pandemic. He stressed that it would be impossible for people to wear masks all the time in shelters due to people having to eat. He worried about the particularly close quarters people in the Community Cabins have to live under and their lack of control over who they live with. Preston ended his three-month stay in the Community Cabins in late 2019 due to a roommate who smoked crystal meth in their shared space, which made it difficult for Preston to breathe or sleep well.

Since the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on December 18 that it will continue to fund Project Roomkey through the duration of the pandemic, Preston will continue to be secure in his hotel room. But at the time of this writing about 30% of the hotel rooms secured by the state of California sit vacant, and activists have called on state, county and city governments to fill them and secure more rooms through state-of-emergency powers. The housing and racial justice non-profit, Just Cities, has repeatedly called on Oakland to make use of its 50-plus acres of vacant public land to shelter its homeless people.

Activism

Bay Area Officials and Leaders React to the George Floyd Verdict

Almost 11 months ago, the world watched as Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck. He kept it there for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. The systemic injustice from hundreds of years of racism and mistreatment of Black Americans was put into plain view on video, and the country and the world erupted in protest.

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Photo Credit: Christy Price

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and the Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann issued statements in reaction to Tuesday’s triple guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, ex-Minneapolis police officer for killing George Floyd in May, 2020.

Mayor London Breed’s statement:

“This verdict does not bring back the life of George Floyd. It can’t replace the years of his life that were robbed from him, nor the life experiences and memories that would have been made with his friends and family. What this verdict does reflect is that the tide is turning in this country, although still too slowly, toward accountability and justice.

Almost 11 months ago, the world watched as Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck. He kept it there for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. The systemic injustice from hundreds of years of racism and mistreatment of Black Americans was put into plain view on video, and the country and the world erupted in protest.

While we’re now months removed from the height of those protests, the need for action is as critical as ever. This is about more than prosecuting the officer who killed George Floyd, though that is an important step. It’s about fundamentally restructuring how policing is done to move away from the use of excessive force. It’s about shifting responses to non-violent calls away from an automatic police response to something better equipped to handle the situation. It’s about reinvesting in communities in which years of systematic disinvestment has made it nearly impossible for people to thrive. It’s about changing who we are as a country.

That’s what we’re trying to do in San Francisco. Our Street Crisis Response Teams, consisting of paramedics and behavioral health specialists, are now often the first responders to non-violent 911 calls relating to mental health and substance use. 

Our Dream Keeper Initiative is redirecting $120 million to improve the lives of Black youth and their families through investments in everything from housing, to healthcare, to workforce training and guaranteed income. And our sustained, multi-year efforts to reform our police department has resulted in a 57% reduction in instances of use of force and a 45% decrease in officer-involved shootings since 2016.

While this tragedy can never be undone, what we can do is finally make real change in the name of George Floyd. Nothing we can do will bring him back, but we can do the work to prevent others from facing his fate in the future. That is the work we need to do. It’s ongoing, it’s challenging, but if we are committed, we can make a real and lasting difference in this country.”

OPD Statement 

We all must recognize that this moment is about accountability, justice, and reform. We must be compassionate, empathic, and forgiving, the Oakland Police Department declared in a statement released on Tuesday. 

All sides must unite as one community to effectively communicate. Together we will work towards rethinking policing in America. 

In unity, we will move towards finding solutions for the safety of all people, notwithstanding your age, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability. 

We stand as one community grieving and healing as we move towards finding real solutions to effect change as we seek to strengthen police and community relations. 

We extend our deepest condolences to George Floyd’s family and all communities. 

Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann:

“Today, we experienced a small measure of justice as Derek Chauvin was convicted and the killing of George Floyd was recognized as the criminal act it was. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that one conviction of one cop for a killing the whole world witnessed on video will change a fundamentally racist and dysfunctional system. The whole law enforcement system must be rethought and rebuilt from the ground up so that there are no more George Floyds, Daunte Wrights and Adam Toledos. But even that is just a start.

“Policing doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Systemic racism exists in policing because systemic racism exists in America. We must fundamentally uproot the disease of racism in our society and create a transformative path forward.” 

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City Government

Council Unanimously Approves Local Business Empowerment Ordinance

The Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce (OAACC) and Post News Group joined with District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor to host a town hall to discuss ways to mitigate local contracting disparities.

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District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor

The Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce (OAACC) and Post News Group joined with District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor to host a town hall to discuss ways to mitigate local contracting disparities.

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, and the staff of District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife also joined the town hall meeting to add their support for full implementation of the plan to bring a more equitable distribution of the city’s contracting dollars.

A direct response to the city’s 2017 Disparities Study, conducted by Mason Tillman Associates, showed more than $56M in lost contract dollars for the Black community during the five-year study period. The purpose of the town hall was to receive community input on potential solutions, including Taylor’s Local Business Empowerment Through Contracting (LBETC) Resolution & Ordinance.

While the resolution was passed unanimously during the Council’s meeting on January 12, questions of financial and operational impact delayed the ordinance’s second reading to this week’s council meeting. Co-sponsored by District 7 Councilmember Treva Reid, the ordinance was also unanimously approved by the councilmembers present in a 7-0 vote, following immense public support mobilized by OAACC President Cathy Adams prior to and during the council meeting.

Taylor thanked the OAACC and the many groups and individuals who urged transparent and regular public reporting of all contracts, even those that are awarded at staff’s discretion for amounts less than $50,000 without council approval.

Taylor said quick action is required because, “Our local diverse business owners are currently missing out on millions of dollars in city contracting opportunities. There is still much work to do moving forward.”

Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post, said “We will regularly publish the names and amounts of  all contracts awarded to companies and individuals. With diligent monitoring we can reverse the drain of Oakland’s tax dollars and reverse the cashflow characteristics to help create jobs for Oakland residents.”

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City Government

Community Support Needed to Ensure Progress Addressing City of Oakland Contracting Disparities

In conjunction with the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland Post News Group, Taylor is hosting a virtual town hall on Saturday, February 13 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.During this meeting diverse business owners will hear directly from the councilmember on his proposed solutions to address the city’s current contracting disparities. This will also be an opportunity for companies to learn more about local resources available and share insight on what is still needed.

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Councilmember Loren Taylor with Black community and business Leaders demanding the city aggressively address race and gender disparities.

Over the past six weeks, The Oakland Post has run several articles on the significant disparities facing Black and women-owned businesses who pursue city contracts. We are focusing on this topic so much because the millions of dollars that should have come to the Black community are sorely needed to help improve the educational, economic, and health outcomes of our community. Legislation proposed by District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor is intended to bring those millions of dollars back to the Black community.

As reported in 2017 Race & Gender Disparity Study, African-American companies were awarded 3.21% of the prime construction contracts and only 0.32% of total construction contract dollars. As it relates to professional services, African-American companies received 2.92% of prime contracts and 0.91% of total dollars. According to Taylor, “These numbers are particularly concerning seeing that African Americans comprise 25% of Oakland’s population.”

In conjunction with the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland Post News Group, Taylor is hosting a virtual town hall on Saturday, February 13 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.During this meeting diverse business owners will hear directly from the councilmember on his proposed solutions to address the city’s current contracting disparities. This will also be an opportunity for companies to learn more about local resources available and share insight on what is still needed.

To ensure these new policies move forward, community members are invited to attend the upcoming City Council Meeting on Tuesday, February 16 at 1:30 p.m. and e-mail the City Council at council@oaklandca.gov.

Loren Taylor is the District 6 councilmember for the City of Oakland.

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