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SF BayView: Challenging Oakland’s encampment evictions

Photo provided by KQED

Oakland has a written procedure for closing homeless encampments. Titled the Encampment Management Policy (EMP), it defines closing an encampment as “removing the encampment and using enforcement to prevent re-encampment.” It later states:

“Prior to reaching any decision to close an encampment, the EMT [Encampment Management Team] will consider the availability of alternate safer locations or other housing or shelter opportunities for the occupants of that encampment. Should shelter or other housing be available, it will be communicated to the occupants by the City’s contracted Street Outreach provider in advance of the closure. The availability of shelter will be a significant, but not dispositive, factor in determining whether to close an encampment.” 

This is not what the city led the judge to believe in Miralle v. City of Oakland. The judge was led to believe that the city’s encampment closing process included offering shelter for all people evicted.

On Feb. 13, 2019, reported that, “Oakland officials plan to enforce a no-camping zone around Lake Merritt beginning Thursday as they try to move homeless individuals into shelters and clear the area of trash.” Based on Martin v. Boise, Oakland could not enforce laws that criminalize a person for sleeping in a public park if no other shelter was available to him. Lake Merritt is not exempted.

I went to watch the closing. Everyone at the Lake Merritt encampment was offered shelter. Most of them accepted the shelter and left the encampment quietly.

I spoke to one man who declined shelter in a TuffShed. As he was being evicted, he didn’t know where he was going to go or what he was going to do. He felt that a TuffShed was among the worst options available to him. He had even heard that a dead body had been found in one.

In fact, several people evicted from Lake Merritt quietly declined shelter. Many people who are lucky enough to have a home may be ignorant of why a homeless person would decline shelter. They assume that the homeless person likes being homeless or likes sleeping outside because they like their freedom. For example, last June, the media reported that a homeless man sleeping on the lake declined shelter; one reader ignorantly argued that the man declined shelter because he “liked living around the lake.”

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