Two Divergent Perspectives on Oakland's "Tuff Shed" Homeless Shelter Community

Two Divergent Perspectives on Oakland’s “Tuff Shed” Homeless Shelter Community

Saied Karamooz
Saied Karamooz
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Robyin Clark moved into a shed with her partner from a homeless encampment in Oakland in December. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

Early this year, Mayor Libby Schaaf and  reacted to their separate visits to the new ” shelter “community” (formerly called “encampment”) at the corner of 6th and Castro streets.  One cannot help being struck by their personal perspectives that are as diametrically opposed to each other as are two ends of a magnet.

Mayor Schaaf touted her visit as a testimonial to how the city’s “pilot program” is, in her words, “showing signs of success.”  The long-standing “surrounding six-block encampment area – once one of ’s largest – was dismantled” and, consequently, the area in the shadows of the juncture of the I-980 and I-880 freeways “remains free and clear of any debris and street camping.”  In her view, this new “compassionate and humane means to resolve encampments” has “afforded a consistency not found in the encampments.”  Residents have a “hard roof to sleep under” in a “community of friends and resources” with a “supportive staff of counselors to drive residents to meetings for addiction treatment, job interviews, and potential housing appointments.”

During Mayor Schaaf’s presence at this temporary pilot program “leading to a path to housing,” residents “applauded” a few achievements of their peers:  one who reached “30 days of sobriety while living at the site” and another who, “with the help of the on-site case managers, found an affordable room to rent.” After a resident expressed appreciation for “’s patience, assistance, and compassion,” the meeting ended with “one more round of applause . . . followed by hugs.”

, accompanied by a reporter and photographer from the London-based Guardian newspaper, made an unofficial visit to this same stopgap smattering of small wooden sheds housing about 35-40 people.  Ms. Farha, a civil rights attorney by training, was led inside a shed inhabited by a self-proclaimed “camp mom.”   chronically since the age of twelve, she described how at night her shed was “like an iced freezer.” The sheds lack insulation, electricity, and plumbing.  “In international human rights law,” Ms. Farha asserted, “providing adequate shelter to people who are is the absolute minimum standard for any country, regardless of resources.”

Ms. Farha expressed concerned about the scale of ’s crisis, estimated to be rapidly approaching 3,000 people among whom are hundreds of children. “Everywhere we’ve driven today, I’ve seen camps.”  While visiting another of ’s communities comprised of a string of shacks built from discarded materials, and watching “large rats scurry in the mud looking for food scraps” and listening to inhabitants describe their feelings of humiliation and embarrassment in dealing with the difficulties of using overflowing portable toilets, making do with the absence of running water, preventing their possessions from being ripped off or losing their possessions in encampment fires or in sweeps by city authorities, Ms. Farha said, “I find there to be a real cruelty in how people are being dealt with here.” “There’s a cruelty here that I don’t think I’ve seen.”

The “unacceptable” squalor and “deplorable living conditions,” according to Ms. Farha, clearly violate international human rights law.  Oakland has an obligation to do much more than it has, and by any moral compass it should do it immediately.

is running for Mayor of Oakland, 2018.

About the Author

Saied Karamooz
Saied Karamooz is running for Mayor of Oakland, 2018.

3 Comments on "Two Divergent Perspectives on Oakland’s “Tuff Shed” Homeless Shelter Community"

  1. Nice entry, Saied! Thanks!

  2. The best solution I’ve seen to date is from Jack London resident, Lou Rigali. His shelters are insulated, fireproof and easily assembled just about anywhere. Lou is a member of HAWG, the Homeless Advocacy Working Group, and trying to make a real difference, even though the Jack London Improvement District seems less interested in helping to promote this concept where the Tuff-Sheds now exist.

    We need a regional solution, and anyone who thinks that Oakland is capable of resolving the Homeless=Housing Crisis all on its own is bereft of any understanding of the urban dynamic that the Bay Area is (supposedly) dealing with today.

  3. Zenophon Abraham | April 14, 2018 at 6:19 pm | Reply

    I really believe it’s time to bring back Redevelopment Law, but with a 25 percent housing set aside. Also, Jim Bealle from San Jose has already passed SB628, that was in 2015 and allows the use of tax increment financing.

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