Oakland dismantles encampment for fire hazard, homeless OK to stay

It was no ordinary homeless encampment that City of Oakland work crews dismantled Wednesday.

The camp which stretches along several blocks of San Leandro Boulevard near 86th Avenue in East Oakland consisted of about 20 tiny homes for 30 people. All were made of wood built by homeless people over the past few months.

Those who built and lived in them were sorry to see them go.

"Little by little you have to carry wood. Nails. It's hard to do it," said Cesar Leppe.

The city said the camp was a fire trap complete with propane tanks. Another problem was the camp was located under BART tracks.

"You put them inside and it catches on fire. It's a recipe for disaster. You add the BART line on top of it and it makes it that much worse," says Oakland Homeless Services Director Joe DeVries.

The camp gained attention recently when a mother gave birth there. The city found housing for mother and child.

But others say they don't want to move to a shelter.

"I'm okay here. Yeah I've got many years living on the street," said Leppe.

The city says it can't make people accept social services and rather than have people here move to another block, it's letting them stay just not in wooden structures.

Instead, the non-profit East Oakland Collective raised money to buy new tents for the same location. But advocates say there was a better solution.

"Move them to a safer sanctioned piece of land rather than tear down the homes," says Candice Elder, director of the East Oakland Collective.

For businesses across the street, the new tents will mean the same old problems.

"If it is tents we are going to put them in, we will still have to deal with the garbage. And that's not going to make me happy," said Bob Giovannoni of Monterey Mechanical. "I've been here 40 years, this is the worst I've seen it."

The city says outreach workers will continue trying to get homeless folks to move indoors.

Until then, the encampment is not closed down. It's just under renovation.