Oakland authorities begin evicting Wood Street encampment residents

After months of legal battles and stalled evictions, the message on Monday to the residents still living at Oakland's Wood Street Commons encampment was this: Eviction day is here. 

Bulldozers and garbage trucks showed up early and spent the day beginning to remove trash, debris and the belongings of the roughly 70 people who call the encampment home. 

"Everybody stay calm," resident Morgan Carter-Griffin called to her peers over her megaphone. "It’s going to be OK. Put all the stuff you don’t want out front if you haven’t done it already."

"We’re not leaving easily," the Wood Street People's Collective member said ahead of the 9 a.m. eviction start time. "We’ve got to stand for something."

Despite her pleas, Carter-Griffin watched along with fellow residents and their advocates as equipment cleared a portion of Wood Street.

The eviction process will last at least two weeks, the city said, to give people time to clear out and relocate.

"We will continue that outreach to ensure that we are engaged with everyone, providing them the opportunity to accept city shelter and shelter in other city programs," said Oakland Assistant City Administrator LaTonda Simmons said. 

City crews towed 12 vehicles from the encampment Monday, and four unhoused residents agreed to relocate to a new cabin shelter program.

Simmons said it took intense planning to accomplish two key goals related to the encampment closure including transitioning the unhoused into available shelter and turn the property over to a developer to build 170 permanently affordable housing units.

"We have to use the city shelter and the shelters we have stood up to be able to assist with these closures," she said. "It's important."

These large-scale encampment sweeps have been a point of contention and left the encampment in legal limbo for years.

The eviction process comes after a temporary restraining order was lifted in late February. The presiding judge determined there was adequate housing for the unhoused living at Wood Street Commons.

"I don’t like the stress it’s bringing to my neighbors, friends and family," Carter-Griffin said. "We have a whole array of people with different levels of stress today."

At one point Monday, the cleanup was delayed as activists blocked the heavy machinery. They were eventually cleared without incident.

"It’s upsetting," said Kimmie Morris. "I’m looking for my son, Stephen. He’s in transitional housing but he still stays here on occasion."

Morris was hoping to find her son and some of his belongings at the reunification area but was unsuccessful. She admitted the area needs to be cleaned up but also doesn’t want to see people displaced again.

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"Moving forward, I hope they just take time and patience and don’t just bulldoze everybody out like that," she said.

The city said outreach teams are engaging with unhoused residents one by one to offer a range of housing and shelter options, employment support, and other services and programs.

That includes a new 100-bed Wood Street community cabins program, funded by an $8.3 million grant from the state. There's also a new safe RV parking site on 66th Avenue.

But homeless advocates argue it's not a permanent solution.

"Those are what they call glorified prisons," Xochitl Bernadette Moreno said. "They're inadequate to meet the needs, the basic human needs, the basic human rights of a person. They were able to create a very thriving community and today that community is being torn apart."

Police were spotted throughout the encampment but no major incidents occurred.

For her part, Carter-Griffin said that she hoped the city would include the unhoused community as the future of the property takes on a new chapter. 

"The city needs to cooperate with us," she said. "They can’t get rid of us. We’re dug in like ticks. We’re part of the spine of the tree of Oakland."