Following news that San Francisco is working to implement a new plan to help combat homelessness, Oakland is now debating whether to declare their own shelter crisis.
Oakland North reports that the city council voted on an ordinance to declare a shelter crisis, but it only received five out of six required votes. But instead of being dismissed completely, the ordinance was deferred to be read again at tonight's council meeting, and just like last week, Homeless Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) members are planning on attending to voice their support of the emergency ordinance.
In a chat with Oakland North after last week's meeting, Jonah Strauss, executive director of the Oakland Warehouse Coalition and a volunteer with HAWG, expressed optimism regarding the vote. Strauss said, "It was really heartening to see that five out of six council members that were there at the time were in support of the urgency finding to pass the shelter crisis ordinance that night. That gave me a good heads up for what we can expect on October 3, and possibly in the future, with these councilmembers."
As winter approaches, it seems like the impetus to pass such an ordinance will only ramp up. With colder weather on the way, the city's estimated 2,761 homeless people will obviously be in search of warm, comfortable shelter. According to Oakland North's numbers, only 859 are able to get shelter. On top of that, only 350 emergency shelter beds are available for overnight stays, with 110 extra added later on for the winter months — not nearly enough to give everyone a place to stay. The hope is that the emergency ordinance would open up more space, at least temporarily. It would do this by allowing the suspension of a few rules and regulations, making it possible for people to be placed in what's considered non-residential spaces (i.e., warehouses and the like).
This isn't the first time Oakland has passed a similar emergency ordinance, though. Back in 2015, Oakland moved to declare a shelter crisis, and provided housing at the Garden Center at Lake Merritt. As well, they made plans to look into developing "tiny house" communities. Recently, Mayor Libby Schaaf introduced plans to create something similar to these communities, as she moved forward on plans to house homeless folks in a city-sanctioned camp made up of Tuff Sheds. Mayor Schaaf called these sheds "outdoor navigation centers," and said that they would be placed near existing homeless encampments.
As in nearly everything, what it comes down to is money. The city seems primarily concerned with the cost of maintaining additional shelters. For example, Oakland has already allocated $550,000 to Mayor Schaaf's outdoor Navigation Center plan, and the Chron says that it will still need "private help" on top of that.
The declaration of a shelter crisis, something San Francisco's Board of Supervisors previously did in early 2016, is akin to a state of emergency declaration, and historically has more often been used after natural disasters in that it allows the city to apply for more federal aid, as well as allocating public lands to the problem.
But according to HAWG member Needa Bee, this ordinance actually isn't about money. She told Oakland North, "What we keep on hearing is that there just isn’t enough money. And what we keep on saying is that we don’t need the money, just give us the land."