Oakland approves homeless ordinance to allow ‘tuff sheds' as temporary solution

The Oakland City Council took a step Tuesday toward addressing the homeless crisis. Members approved a measure to move people from encampments and into temporary shelters called 'tuff sheds' as they wait for permanent housing. 

Mayor Libby Schaaf had hoped for three outdoor navigation sites for these structures to be built, but the city will start with one. 

"We have to build more affordable housing," Mayor Schaaf told KTVU in a live interview on Wednesday. "We cannot wait for those new structures to be built. We have to take action now. This is a very temporary measure but it allows people to get off of the sidewalk." 

The vote was 6 to 0 with two supervisors absent. The City Council also adopted a two-year ordinance declaring a shelter crisis in Oakland, which will, according to the mayor's office, allow more flexibility to build and provide public facilities for unsheltered residents. 

The mayor admits not everyone is happy about the locations that have been chosen, especially the residents surrounding those sites. Encampment residents in proximity to the proposed 'tuff shed' sites and homeless residents who are "frail" will be given priority access to the services, Schaaf said. 

The idea is to clear the sidewalks and to keep them clear. The housing epidemic has taken on increased urgency for Oakland and the greater Bay Area. Preemptive measures have been taken to combat the Hepatitis A outbreak that other California cities have suffered. 

"Often times homeless people don't want to move into shelters where there's just a large room of cots. Often there are hours with check in and check out. These are adults. We cannot force them to take these services," she said. But she noted that the new shelters would be closer to the tent-situation that they're currently in. 

"They provide some form of privacy."  

The outdoor complexes, which will be able to house up to 40 people, also aim to keep communities together. The goal, Schaaf said, is to get the residents into a better situation in six months. 

"'Tuff sheds' are not designed to be permanent places of residence. They are not 'tiny homes'. 

The cost of the project is estimated at $450,000 a year for the City of Oakland, which includes all of the supportive services such as 24-hour security, housing navigators, mental health and addiction services. 

As for the critics who say that amount is too costly for about 80 people a year, Schaaf said, "The taxpayers are already paying for the homeless. They're paying in emergency room visits. They're paying in 911 calls. They're paying in the number of fires we've had at the encampments. They're paying in health risk." 

The city is now reaching out to the county and the private sector to see if they can get them to pay for the funding for these services for more than 80 people. 

"We also have been asked by the council to identify additional sites so that there is one in every part of the city," said Schaaf. 

The hope is to get the first 'tuff shed' shelter built before the rainy season sets in. 

A report by City Administrator Sabrina Landreth lists four possible locations for navigation centers:

  --34th Street and Mandela Parkway, which is an unused Caltrans parcel that is paved, fenced and is about 46,000 square feet.
    --3831 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, a city-owned lot that's slated for future development of affordable housing units and is about 10,000 square feet.
    --East 12th Street and 23rd Avenue, a city-owned remainder parcel that's about 64,000 square feet and already has a homeless encampment on it.
    --6th Street between Castro and Brush streets, a 54,000-square foot parcel that's zoned for residential use and was recently sold by Caltrans to a private party. It's bordered by and adjacent to one of the largest homeless encampments in Oakland.