Oakland City Council will consider where to allow homeless encampments

City officials in Oakland are set to consider a new homeless encampment policy that would address where people can and cannot set up encampments.

The city’s Life Enrichment Committee, led by District 6 Councilman Loren Taylor, voted Monday to move the proposal to the city council for further discussion.

Taylor said the city is trying to find a balance that will support the health and safety of Oakland’s unhoused community, while addressing concerns from some residents and businesses who do not want encampments to be allowed.

The “Homeless Encampment Management Policy” proposes that high and low sensitivity areas be designated in Oakland. Encampments would be cleared in high sensitivity areas like traffic or bike lanes, including within 150 feet of a school, within 50 feet of a protected waterway, house, business, or public park, and within 25 feet of a shelter. Homeless people would be allowed to camp in other parts of the city considered low sensitivity areas. Officials said enforcement would be de-prioritized, but standards would be created to ensure no laws are being broken by people living in the encampments.

Taylor said the proposal was created after receiving roughly 800 survey responses from residents during February to June of 2020.

“The bottom line is the status quo has not been working,” Taylor said. “This is an attempt to strike a balance of supporting our unhoused and treating them humanely while at the same time, creating some consistency to how we support our encampments.”

If approved, implementation of the policy is still unclear. Right now, Oakland is not clearing any encampments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials noted homelessness has reached a crisis with more and more people being displaced.

The Life Enrichment Committee meeting heard public comment from residents, business owners, and homeless advocates both for and against the proposed policy. Some residents said they are concerned with arson, violent crime, and drug use at encampments in their neighborhood. Homeless advocates said the policy would criminalize the homeless and leave unhoused people with zero options of where they can live without fear out being displaced.

Oakland’s community cabins, a temporary solution to house the homeless, are at capacity.

“The reality is we are in a city where we are going to have to live with homelessness,” Taylor said. “We don't have the resources to solve it overnight.”

After requesting more information on various topics related to the proposed policy, officials with the Life Enrichment Committee voted to move the proposal to the city council for discussion and public comment on October 20.