Fire and gunfire at West Oakland homeless encampment concerns neighbors

Residents near a West Oakland park are alarmed about a growing homeless camp, especially after a fire and gunshots on the same day.

"It's really loud and chaotic and then escalates every so often into gunfire," said a homeowner in the Dogtown neighborhood, who wished to remain anonymous.

He has lived near the park, located at 34th and Peralta, for 12 years.

On social media and sites such as NextDoor, he says the camp is a hot topic, but that people fear retaliation if they speak publicly.

"Monday was about the fifth or sixth shooting that has occured in the park in the last year, since Covid hit," he said, describing about a dozen shots ringing out at around noon.

No one was hit, but with homes and apartments so close, residents are fearful.  

"Everyone in our house and our neighbors was scared, absolutely  terrified." 

The same day, neighbors woke up to a pre-dawn fire in the park, with flames more than ten feet tall.

"Of course, after the Ghostship tragedy, fire has every single person in Oakland terrified."

Monday's fire was the camp's largest so far.

"When you have a public park absolutely surrounded by hundreds of people, and a fire goes up it can have catastrophic consequences for everyone involved," warned the homeowner.

The blaze charred a former community garden used for education and food.

In past years, tents have been cleared from Fitzgerald Union Park, under the city's prohibition on camping. 

"That should be enforced, it's putting everybody's lives in danger when you have multiple rounds of gunfire coming to and from encampments," declared the resident. 

During the pandemic, health experts advised against uprooting homeless people to keep Covid-19 from spreading.

The camp mushroomed to about 20 tents on a 2,000 square foot parcel.

Neighbors have spoken at community forums and Oakland City Council meetings, where suggestions have been made for sanctioned camps on surplus land, with more space and security.  

"When I spoke, I was basically booed out by a bunch of advocates for homeless people. I think they intimidate and scare people," said the camp critic.

"But it's not about the homeless, it's about fires and bullets."

And, he says, it's about everyone's right to safety. 

"There are a lot of kids and families around here and it terrifies us having gunfire and violence like that so close."