SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - New numbers on the homeless population in Alameda County show a dramatic increase. Nearly half the county's homeless live in Oakland. It's a 47% increase just since 2017.
KTVU visited three encampments around Oakland, including one at popular Mosswood Park on busy Webster Street. It's a playground for families, but is also a haven for the homeless.
A woman who identified herself as "Lulu" spoke with KTVU on the condition of anonymity. She says she lost her job, then her home, and started living in the park.
"It's changed so much. Five years ago, there was four people in the park," said Lulu.
She says there are now fifty people living here in plain sight. Lulu says there are countless others who choose to stay hidden, tucked away in spots hidden by fences or shrubbery. Lulu's count of the homeless is mirrored by a one-night street count released by Alameda County. It found that the number of homeless people increased 47% since 2017, one of the biggest 2-year increases of any California city.
"Discouraged, but not surprised," said Elaine de Coligney, executive director of EveryOne Home, the organization that did the count.
"That vacant building, people live there. That underpass. It looks like nobody's there. But there are a couple of people in sleeping bags," said de Coligney.
The count also found a large increase among people living in their vehicles. Many freeway underpasses shelter tents, and encampments vary in size. One man told us why he squats in a vacant building.
"When you get a little something and you're homeless, you hide it so you can keep it," said Ulysses Allen. He says he was a forklift driver when a failed relationship landed him on the streets. He says he can keep himself and his belongings safe in a vacant building where he doesn't have to contend with other homeless people.
Mayor Libby Schaaf tells KTVU the city has taken steps to address the crisis by adding beds, putting up transitional housing such as tough sheds and allowing RV' parking in designated lots since the count was done in January.
"I am absolutely determined to not just take this problem out of public view, but to solve it and that means putting people into permanent housing," says Mayor Schaaf.
As for "Lulu," she says she is determined to get a roof over her head in the coming months.
"I promised myself this will be my last summer and winter. I'm not going to make another winter here. It's brutal," said "Lulu."
Advocates for the homeless say this crisis is a regional problem and that "the county needs to up its game."