Caltrans starts clearing Oakland's Wood Street encampment

A major cleanup got underway Thursday as Caltrans crews started clearing Oakland's largest homeless encampment.

An army of workers, roughly 200, moved into the Wood Street encampment to begin removing trash, debris and property belonging to unhoused residents. California Highway Patrol officers were also at the scene.

"You are destroying the only community that has kept us safe," an unhoused resident shouted.

The area near freeways below the MacArthur Maze in West Oakland is a site of sprawling RVs and tents. Dozens of fires have broken out there.

When contract workers arrived at the encampment they were briefly stopped by unhoused residents who were protesting their eviction from the state property.

"Every time we're displaced, it is stressful, detrimental to our health and takes four years off our lives," Theo Cedar Jones said. "Stop eviction. We need a breather here."

The clearing of the Wood Street encampment comes two weeks after a federal judge lifted a restraining order and ruled that Caltrans must move forward with its plan to clear the troublesome camp.

About 200 people live there.

"This whole process is leaving extremely vulnerable people more vulnerable," said Attorney Bridgitte Nicoletti who represents the homeless. "The lack of adequate shelter and the potential loss of valuable property that results from this I think is really troubling."

The city of Oakland, Alameda County and Caltrans were told in court to offer residents safe places to stay.

Homeless advocates say the city doesn't have enough beds, shelter or housing options for all of them. 

"The problem is most people are living in their vehicles," said volunteer advocate Talya Husbands-Hankin. "And so when those vehicles are confiscated, people will be left with literally nowhere to go and no shelter."

Many of those vehicles are being hauled off and stored. 

KTVU saw some people try to stop that from happening, resulting in their arrests. One holdout was carried away after he lay across a pickup truck and refused to move.

For those who did leave the encampment, advocates say they've relocated to nearby neighborhoods or are in some form of temporary housing. 

The cleanup work is expected to last for weeks and broken up into three phases as many unhoused wonder what may happen to them.

"Everybody's just kind of on their own right now," Rachael Roberts said. "I think they could have been a little more fair about things or given us a little more time."

In a statement to KTVU Caltrans said it "is responsible for maintaining the state’s transportation network for all Californians, and following the court’s ruling, Caltrans is clearing the Wood Street encampment in phases beginning on September 8 and anticipates completing the clearing in early November."

The agency said there were 34 people at the encampment on Thursday when crews came in to clean. Caltrans said it continues to work the with the city and Alameda County to connect unhoused residents at the site with shelter services.

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU