When can Oakland close a homeless camp? Big changes underway

The city of Oakland has agreed to significantly change how it closes homeless encampments, settling a lawsuit filed by a group of homeless residents in 2018.

The city must now provide a week’s notice before closing a camp, store residents’ belongings more carefully, and avoid closing camps in the event of rain or extreme weather.

“By approving this settlement, these changes will take effect,” Board Chairman Nikki Fortunato Bas said at a special half-hour board meeting on Tuesday morning where the deal was approved. .

Under the settlement agreement, the city will also pay $250,000 to members of the Housing and Dignity Village community and encampment.

Seven homeless residents of this group first sued the city in federal court in November 2018 over the planned closure of their camp on vacant city-owned land in deep East Oakland at Edes Avenues and S Elmhurst. They were initially unsuccessful, with a judge allowing Oakland to proceed with closing the camp.

Following the decision, the city again announced that it would close the Village camp in early December, giving residents 72 hours notice. In their lawsuit, which was updated after the December shutdown and names Mayor Libby Schaaf and other officials as defendants with the city, the homeless residents alleged that city officials agreed to postpone the shutdown until after a community meeting. The city denied this. Residents said they were surprised to encounter dozens of city employees and police early one morning, who carried out the planned closure.

“Department of Public Works employees demolished shelters and structures and failed to store property that plaintiffs had specifically requested to be stored,” including professional catering equipment, personal journals and religious materials, according to the lawsuit, which details an extensive process followed by residents. to try to get their things back.

The homeless residents also alleged in their lawsuit that the city failed to provide them with adequate alternative housing. Instead, Oakland only offered them overnight stays at shelters where they couldn’t bring their pets or belongings.

“It is the natural and foreseeable consequence of the City’s actions that homeless residents who have no way to move their belongings, nowhere to go and no assistance from the City are forced to leave behind the belongings they ‘they want to keep and that is an integral part of their lives and their efforts to get off the streets,’ the lawsuit said.

Anita Miralle, founder of The Village and lead plaintiff in the case, said the settlement agreement was a small step toward the group’s larger goals.

“From the start, what the plaintiffs were fighting for was an end to all evictions,” Miralle, who also goes by the name Needa Bee, told The Oaklandside. “Due to limitations in the legal system, we were only able to remove one specific policy.”

She said Village members were reluctant to settle, preferring to try to hold the city accountable for its actions in court, but ultimately felt they would be more successful in reaching an agreement.

The closures his group began protesting against long ago have continued in the years since the lawsuit was filed, Need Bee said. Members of The Village, which provides support services to homeless residents throughout Oakland, have moved several times since the Edes site closed. A few days ago, several people received tow notices on the vehicles they live in.

And Edes’ location wasn’t the first place they settled or were asked to leave; Needa Bee and others were living in camps on E. 12th Street in 2018 and Grove Shafter Park in 2017. Both were also closed by the city.

Civil rights attorneys representing the residents, Dan Siegel and EmilyRose Johns, could not be reached for comment. The City of Oakland did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the deal.

In the years since the lawsuit was filed, the city has made significant changes to how it closes and cleans up encampments. Most notably, in the fall of 2020, the council passed the controversial Encampment Management Policy, or EMP. The law attempts to clarify and standardize Oakland’s process for cleaning, maintaining and closing camps. It says no homeless resident will be arrested for sleeping outside or forced to leave without being offered shelter.

Residents and homeless advocates have criticized the policy for declaring most of Oakland camp-free and dismantling communities of people who have few other shelter options.

The terms of the settlement, which are to remain in effect for four years, make changes to the PEM. Instead of 72 hours’ notice, the city must now give a full week’s warning to camps it plans to close, including detailed plans and contact information for service providers. The city can act more quickly in an emergency.

Under the agreement, city employees must follow a strict protocol to collect, store and keep track of items taken during the closures. The city must also make items available for pickup by their owners within 48 hours.

In response to the village’s closure in December, the settlement is introducing new policies regarding extreme weather conditions. He directs the city to monitor forecasts and avoid closing camps in the rain, in weather that exceeds 90 degrees or dips below 42, and when air pollution levels are above 200 AQI, considered “very unhealthy”.

The city’s agreement follows a related $5.5 million settlement from a lawsuit against Caltrans in 2020. Under the settlement, the state agency was required to repay more than a thousand residents whose property she had destroyed when closing camps on her property, and to provide more consistent notice and storage during future closures in the East Bay.

Needa Bee said his group is happy with their financial reward and hopes to pool funds to eventually buy a property where they can legally live without being harassed.

“The only thing that’s going to stop this homelessness crisis is permanent housing,” she said. “It’s cliché at this point, but it’s true.”

This story was updated after publication with comments from Needa Bee.

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