Over the MLK Day weekend, a group that has previously constructed unsanctioned "villages" of makeshift tiny houses as homeless encampments built another one on a strip of land in Oakland, calling it the Right to Exist Curbside Community.
As the East Bay Times reports, the group called The Village began constructing a collection of 11 eight-by-twelve-foot wooden homes behind a Burger King at East 12th Street and 16th Avenue. Anita De Asis Miralle, a founder of the group, tells the paper, "We are saving the city money," and says, "This was an unused piece of land with no real value — we gave it value."
Governor Gavin Newsom has recently called for cities and counties around the state to make use of vacant, publicly owned land to construct such temporary shelters. And The Village sees its work as no different — though the city is likely to clear this encampment as it has previous ones built by the group in 2017 and 2018. Among the city's past objections have been fires, trash accumulation, and other safety concerns.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a statement about the Right to Exist Curbside Community on Monday, saying, "The City of Oakland has an encampment management policy. We assess each camp based on our criteria of safety, of health, of size and location. We have been brought to court on five occasions to defend that policy, and every time we have prevailed. The courts have found that the city of Oakland’s policy is fair, reasonable and lawful. And we will not treat this encampment any differently than we would treat any other encampment."
The Chronicle spoke to two of the encampment's residents, Alejandro Hernandez and his girlfriend, Lendsey Walker, who just had a baby together five days ago. Of their new tiny house, Walker said, "The fact that there are four walls and a floor, you can keep it clean. A tent is just fabric. It’s just nice to have a real building, a home."
Needa Bee, another founder of The Village, tells the Chronicle, "We’re trying to present a model for new, rapid rehousing in an unbelievable housing crisis. Our intention is to keep them up here until there is permanent housing for these folks." Bee, who is herself homeless, lives in a camper with her 17-year-old daughter.
As KTVU reports, at least three of the 11 planned structures were completed on Sunday, and they were built with the help of $8,000 in donations, donated materials, and around 100 volunteers. Based on surveys of the homeless already living in encampments, this village will include a community kitchen, a solar shower, and a bicycle-powered washing machine.
About 100 people spent Sunday crafting garden beds out of recycled tires, painting homes, creating a community kitchen, and building houses for a micro-development of 11 small homes on a median between a Burger King and Interstate 880 in Oakland.https://t.co/jdit9Ckjcj— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) January 20, 2020
Speaking in Oakland on Thursday as part of a statewide tour dedicated to issues of homelessness, Governor Gavin Newsom said, "This is the issue of our time. The issue of homelessness is a crisis in the state of California. It is happening on our watch and we need to meet this moment."
Bee tells KTVU that the timing on MLK weekend was to honor Dr. King's legacy, and the work he was doing with the poor toward the end of his life. "We are hoping... that other housed and unhoused neighbors would be inspired to unite and work together thru direct action to address the immediate needs of our people living curbside with humane, dignified, grassroots led approaches,” Bee says. “We join the efforts to reclaim and embrace [Dr. King's] radical legacy this weekend."
Top image of an earlier project by The Village via Facebook.