Oakland plans to place homeless into 'tuff' sheds around Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt is often called the gem of Oakland. It’s home to the nation's first and oldest bird sanctuary. It's also home to at least 65 homeless people.

“I've moved around two times around here before I got to this spot and I just don't really have another place to go,” said Andrew Flory. 

The city of Oakland says the homeless encampments are having a detrimental impact on the environment around the lake.

“We're seeing human waste, garbage, needles that are getting pulled out of the lake by our volunteers every day,” said Joe DeVries, assistant to the Oakland City Administrator. 

As a solution, the city is opening 20 community cabins, or 'tuff sheds', that will house 40 people at the Henry Kaiser Convention Parking lot. This is the third such community to be built in Oakland. 

Over the next couple of weeks, those camping out around the lake will gradually be given 7 to 10 days' notice to leave. Then they'll be invited to move in those sheds the first week of October.  After that, Lake Merritt becomes a closed zone where encampments will be prohibited.

“If the alternative is no alternative you know what I mean. Ideally I'd like to get back on my feet and be a contributing member to society, not just here,” said Flory.  

City leaders say that's what the tuff sheds are for. It's a six month process to prepare people for transitional housing. 

“There’s 24-hour security, there's full-time case management to provide people the services they need to get on a path to housing, as well as light meals breakfast and dinner is provided,” said DeVries. 

Now, the sheds are more efficiently built. City officials admit it's been a learning process.

“We learned that pre-insulating the floor helps, putting in insulation ahead of time and wall covering. We also changed the shape of them. We added double insulated windows and bigger windows so they have better airflow and better light. We put in led lighting and we put in charging stations so people can plug in anything that takes a USB so they'll have low voltage electricity,” said DeVries. 

There are rules: Each cabin is shared between two people, who can come and go as they please.
Pets and personal belongings are welcome - but drug dealing and violence are not.

About $200,000 in private funding paid to build this third tuff shed community. It will cost about a $750,000 to run it annually, which includes $125,000 that will be used to help people transition to housing. It will pay for things like rental deposits, PG&E deposits and furniture.