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Unhoused Residents Challenge Legality of City Run Eviction

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As the City of Oakland continued evicting unhoused people living in the Community of Grace by East Oakland’s Home Depot, two unhoused residents filed a complaint requesting a temporary restraining order against The City, Mayor Libby Schaaf, and Oakland’s Police and Public Works Departments in an effort to ensure the eviction only happen if it followed the law and the City of Oakland’s own policy.

“The Court holds that the City may remove Plaintiffs and their property…only if it fully complies with its own stated policies,” wrote Northern District of California Judge Carl R. Breyer, ruling on March 3, 2020, in response to the complaint filed on Feb. 28.

When Judge Breyer’s ruling came through on March 3, about a dozen unhoused residents still remained at the site. Residents and housing justice advocates claim that unhoused people have lived by East Oakland’s Home Depot, some in tents, some in vehicles, others in self-made structures, for at least five years and that the site’s population was over 100.

The City of Oakland has been clearing the site of inhabitants since mid-February and plans to finish the process by mid-March. Some people living in RVs and trailers moved across the street to a sanctioned safe parking site where the city is allowing them to stay. The site, operated by a non-profit called The Housing Consortium of The East Bay, has room for about 40 vehicles.

The Oakland Post counted over 60 vehicles that appeared to serve as homes at or near The Community of Grace on Jan. 23 and also noted dozens of tents and self-made homes. The safe parking site does not allow people to live in tents or self-made homes and bans children. One resident had her child move in with another family so she could stay at the site.

The Community of Grace’s plaintiff’s complaint alleged that recent Oakland evictions and actions The City were taking related to their current eviction had violated their 4th, 8th and 14th amendment rights.

“These evictions and the failure to follow policy are cruel and unusual. They cause us depression, trauma, and stress. They cause us deeper instability…We lose vehicles we live in, store belongings in and materials we use to make ends meet. We lose countless personal property including money, medication and family photos,” The Community of Grace plaintiffs wrote in their complaint to the court.

The Community of Grace plaintiff’s complaint claimed the city was required to provide alternative shelter and an opportunity to retrieve property that The City confiscates from them. While Judge Breyer ruled against their request for alternative shelter, he agreed the city was required to store confiscated belongings for pick up.

Judge Breyer emphasized that The City’s policy states they can’t “remove belongings from a site when the occupant is present” unless those belongings cause an immediate public health or safety risk.

Amy, a Bay Area resident of about 10 years who says she needed extra time to gather and organize her possessions due to a brain injury, claims she lost almost everything when the city destroyed her self-built home in the Community of Grace in late October 2019, citing fire code violations.

While she had arranged with a Department of Public Works (DPW) worker to get extra time, it wasn’t enough to ensure her belongings would be safe.

“He didn’t happen to be there when my place was destroyed, no one listened to me, and they demolished everything,” Amy said.

During the recent eviction, DPW workers and housing justice advocates helped Amy move her belongings off of the site and unto a nearby street. Amy, who lives in a tent, is now cut off from her former community and is trying to obtain an RV so she can move into the safe parking site. She didn’t lose possessions during the recent eviction.

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