OAKLAND, Calif. - People in the Longfellow neighborhood said they’ve been warning city officials about safety concerns under Highway 24 after a homeless man was hit by a car in Oakland.
Oakland police are investigating the incident as a hit-and-run, and the man was taken to Highland Hospital after he was found unresponsive under the Highway 24 overpass on 45th Street on Oct. 23rd.
A hospital spokesperson is asking the community to help identify the man, possibly named Mike.
Neighbors said before this happened, they raised the alarm with the city, and they believe it could have been prevented. Neighbors who know the man said he’s been living in the underpass.
Jon Sarriugarte with the Longfellow Neighborhood Association and the Neighborhood Council 10Y said, "I’m not at all surprised he would get hit down there."
"It’s very likely Mike got hit because it is dark and they couldn’t see and people speed under there," said Jacob Yates, Chair of the Neighborhood Council 10Y.
After sunset, neighbors said it’s too dark. Now that it gets darker sooner, they’re concerned about the kids who live west of the freeway and must walk the underpass to get to and from school.
"I don’t think these are safe locations for myself or my child to walk to school or any of my neighbors. I don’t think they’re safe locations for people to be living in in those conditions," said Sarriugarte.
The lights went out months ago, and neighbors submitted multiple 311 requests to address the problems under the freeway, including an electrical wiring issue and illegal dumping.
"There’s been almost no action," said Yates, who leads neighborhood meetings alongside a city representative for Councilmember Dan Kalb and OPD.
In the same week "Mystery Mike" was hit by a car, an encampment of multiple vehicles under the freeway caught fire after neighbors sent multiple emails asking city leaders to clear out combustibles being collected by a camper.
"Someone could have died in the fire. We’re really lucky that no one did," Yates said. "The city had ample warning that there was a fire hazard under there and they didn’t do anything to help clear things out."
Following the fire in October, neighbors said they conducted a clean-up, and an Oakland Public Works team came to tow four vehicles and clear debris. However, as of Monday, there was still a pile of oxygen cylinders and fire hydrants at the scene.
On October 30, Oakland officials told the neighborhood council that the Encampment Management Team, an interdepartmental group of city workers from OPW, OPD, OFD, Human Services, and the city administrator’s office, are obligated to execute operations during set times. Operations include trash pickup, homeless intervention, and offering coordinated health and safety resources to the unhoused. They said emergencies and illegal dumping falls outside of the scope of the encampment teams.
"It’s not very clear to us or to them who’s in charge," said Sarriugarte.
Oakland has over 1,000 encampments. An OFD spokesperson said about 20% of encampment fires affect freeways and BART tracks, sometimes causing delays or temporary closures in transit.
BART spokesperson James Allison told KTVU there have been eight encampment fires that triggered a major response from BART crews this year, but said, "We’ve had numerous more that either delay service or affect the trackway/train, but do not cause damage."
Allison continued, "We work with staff and city leaders in every municipality regarding these issues. We also understand that the whole Bay Area is grappling with ways to reduce unsheltered homelessness, so encampments that are under BART tracks, but not on BART property, often take a significant time for resolution. We do offer services to every encampment under BART tracks and on BART property prior to any encampment abatement."
After the I-10 closures caused by encampment fires in downtown LA, Longfellow neighbors want the fire hazards removed and the lights safely back on before more damage is done.
Sarriugarte sent an email on November 1 warning city leaders, "This is going to be a second fire once the cold snap arrives and probably why the lights are not working. Is this something you can elevate in priority?"
Oakland’s Assistant City Administrator Latonda Simmons told the Neighborhood Council via email on Tuesday the Department of Transportation will be out to fix the lights at 45th Street in conjunction with the Encampment Management Team. The exact date on the work has not been given.
"I’m optimistic that the city understands that they don’t have enough resources and with that understanding they’re trying to be smart about how they use those resources to actually make some changes," said Sarriugarte.
Yates said the Neighborhood Council 10Y will continue to meet with city officials to come up with a permanent solution to fortify the electrical system to avoid encampment fires and future car accidents under this overpass, and all Highway 24 overpasses in Oakland.
A spokesperson with the city of Oakland, Jean Walsh, sent a statement that said, "The electrical work cannot be completed until the homeless encampment at this location is closed. Closing the encampment will enable crews to access the in ground electrical boxes that have been tampered with.
"The City recognizes and respects the community’s frustrations and concerns with the conditions at this location. It is tragic and unacceptable every time someone is harmed traveling in our right of way. This location is one of more than 1,300 encampments the City is working to address, and to close encampments the City is required to have available shelter space for every resident of an encampment. Due to the low numbers of shelter resources, we are not always able to respond as timely as we would like with so many locations to prioritize."
Oakland officials encourage residents to report maintenance issues by contacting OAK311, and when necessary calling OPD if criminal activities are occurring. "Even when we cannot immediately respond, the data from these calls helps the City better understand conditions and allocate finite resources to make the best impacts," said Walsh.