Homeless camp takes over tennis courts near Oakland's Lake Merritt

There is frustration in an Oakland neighborhood near Lake Merritt over a homeless encampment in a park, which have taken over the tennis courts so they are no longer open to the public.

As of Tuesday, there were 13 tents at the Athol Plaza Courts, causing neighbors to complain. 

"Athol tennis courts, which I call the homeless tennis courts, in Oakland is the jewel of the lake," said Larry Atkins of Oakland.

Not only that, but "they're noisy. At night, they play loud music," said Larry Stinson, a neighbor. 

He and others said before the pandemic, there were a few tents and now they say as many as 50 people live here.

"That's a public park. The people who live here should be able to use that park. Now, they can't use it. It's crazy," said Stinson. 

Neighbors said putting in Porta potties and handwashing sinks at the park has attracted more homeless people. 

"I've been playing tennis here at Athol Courts since I was 12 years old," said Atkins.  

He said playing tennis led to an athletic college scholarship and eventually a successful career.

Atkins said he hopes to work with the city to identify alternate sites for the homeless so that these tennis courts can be restored and re-opened to the public. 

But the homeless say they are left with little choice. 

"I don't want to be here. I don't choose to be here," said Ricky P., a homeless man who has a tent set up at the courts. 

He and another homeless man said they live at the tennis courts because they're safe here and they have nowhere else to go.

"It's peace of mind. It's a place where I can get away. It's not no place where I'd like to stay," said a homeless man who identified himself as "Country."

  n March, the Oakland City Council adopted a resolution to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among the homeless by not clearing encampments unless individual housing units are available.

In a written statement, Council Member Nikki Fortunato Bas who represents this district, said in part, "Our office is dedicated to identifying and moving unsheltered residents into permanent housing or shelter options and working with encampment residents."

An aide to City Council Member Bas said the site is not a city-sanctioned encampment and that Bas is working to eventually revitalize the tennis courts so residents can use them again.