Essential Food and Medicine at Work on Wood Street

by Areli Hernandez

Until recently more than 4,000 homeless people had been living at a large encampment on Wood Street in West Oakland. That number has been reduced to around 50 by repeated sweeps led by CalTrans, which have displaced many former community members. A neighborhood nonprofit called Essential Food and Medicine, or EFAM, helps encampment residents by distributing healthy foods and medicines. The group’s main aim is to reduce homelessness in the Bay Area. 

EFAM is a collective of Spanish-speaking healers with multiple skill sets who help care for vulnerable people. As a journalist I have helped this organization for years. Many of those involved with EFAM are teachers, yoga instructors and artists. EFAM believes that forming a strong artistic community on Wood Street will help the homeless people in the Bay Area. 

EFAM has met with Oakland City Council member Carroll Fife, whose district includes Wood Street. The group is also working with other Bay Area community members to stop government agencies like CalTrans from removing homeless encampments on Wood Street. On February 3, Judge William Orrick lifted the restraining order stopping Caltrans from said removal, then reinstated the order one week later. As a result this street-based community is experiencing great upheaval. 

Sequoia Hansen, a hip hop and jazz dancer who works for the Oakland Zoo, lived at the encampment on Wood Street before finding housing. She says that working with organizations like EFAM has encouraged her to prioritize helping those around her. This nonprofit is really pivotal for homeless people in the Bay Area and needs more moral and financial support.

EFAM is currently working with Wood Street residents offering to help them build homes, and providing food, freshly made juices and spiritual guidance. Xochitl Bernadette Moreno, one of the nonprofit’s co-founders, states that the organization uses resources to help individuals navigate the unwieldy political system we all live in. Residents have help from other Bay area artists and teachers as well.

EFAM and its donors this year were able to build makeshift housing, showers and a kitchen for these houseless residents. It had to bring its efforts to a halt because of the looming threat of eviction by Caltrans and the city of Oakland, both of which oversee the area. Many people who live at Wood Street are looking for housing, even temporarily, as they look for long term stability. 

Recently, I met someone in San Luis Obispo County experiencing homelessness. Jaeon C. Cox  spends his time in secluded spaces and uses public services such as a library to charge his phone and take a shower hosted on site by a local nonprofit. Cox is getting help and is getting his life in order. 

EFAM continues to help on Wood Street by hosting art shows and other fundraisers. They truly hope to help those experiencing homelessness in the Bay Area.