Oakland Formalizes Cruel Encampment Policy

On October 20, the Oakland City Council unanimously passed the Encampment Management Policy (EMP), despite hundreds of public comments decrying the policy and public demonstrations organized by a coalition of homeless advocacy organizations. The policy threatens to force unhoused people out of the encampments they have created to survive in 98% of Oakland. 

The EMP sounds innocuous enough, especially how the councilmembers frame this policy they claim will help unhoused communities. Even Mayor Libby Schaaf encouraged housed people to support the EMP, with an email she sent out the day before the vote:

Fellow Oaklanders:

Ending homelessness is a moral imperative that demands action right now. Maintaining safe and healthy public spaces is also the city’s responsibility. 

Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. the Oakland City Council will vote on an Encampment Management Policy that will improve the well-being of all of our residents.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Even the email looked pretty with the iconic Oakland Tree on the letterhead. Mayor Schaaf presents herself as  a laid-back, likeable person who will make the city a better place to be in. Anybody can check out her Twitter page and see how she’s a people-person, especially when congratulating Kamala Harris with: “Big #Town love to @KamalaHarris from your hometown mayor. #KHive couldn’t be prouder. Kamala threw down and kept it real like an Oakland girl through and through! #HellaProud

Well, appropriating African American Vernacular English in the Bay Area and voting to criminalize homelessness is a foolproof step to get everybody to deeply loathe you and your cronies — looking at you, Lynette McElhaney, Noel Gallo, Dan Kalb and all of the other councilmembers and the entire police department…) . How many pats on the back have the mayor and councilmembers have given themselves for these abusive policies, while unhoused people’s homes have been broken into and swept away? Whom do you enrich if you pass a law that hurts instead of heals the community?

It is no surprise that this policy has no real solutions for those who live in these encampments that the mayor and NIMBYs are so afraid of. The EMP does not offer any housing, services or shelter to those who it will displace. It does not provide any security to housed people who are at risk of being evicted by their landlord because of unemployment and recession during the pandemic. This policy is basically saying that all encampments, tents and RVs are banned in a whopping 98% of the City of Oakland, meaning unhoused people will be banned from sleeping in public areas that are accessible to them. There are hardly any pathways to real housing for the residents who live in the encampments. To squeeze the thousands of Oakland’s homeless residents from 140 encampments into the remaining 2% of Oakland in which camping is not yet criminalized is inhumane. Importantly, this policy also violates the federal health guidelines that encampments should not be swept during the COVID-19 pandemic. The EMP further criminalizes homeless Oaklanders in order to inflate property values at the cost of human lives, and we will not tolerate it.

In the weeks ahead the October 20 vote, House the Bay has been working alongside The Village, Punks with Lunch, Love and Justice in the Streets, East Oakland Burrito Rolls, Berkeley Free Clinic and several other organizations and community members to form the Coalition Against the EMP. Many people volunteered to watch for cops at encampments, while others have dedicated their time to calling and emailing Oakland councilmembers, urging them to vote against this cruel policy. 

No matter how difficult the council members have made it for the general community and unhoused people to make a Zoom call under two minutes to oppose the policy, we made sure that they heard us.

On the day of the action, the Village’s text blast encouraged everyone to come out to a home demonstration in front of councilmember Gallo and Kalb’s affluent homes during the scheduled zoom meetings. While Gallo greeted the coalition community with a lukewarm promise to vote against the EMP, Kalb hid himself away from the people who have showered the neighborhood with lively music and chanting “F*** THE EMP.” Plastic ghosts were hung on Gallo’s fence to represent the broken promises he made that continued to haunt him, and an enormous megaphone was facing towards Kalb’s home. At both homes, the DJs played their mix and cranked the volume to the max. With each hour that passed our chants of “F*** THE EMP” grew louder, and Kalb was visibly distracted during the Zoom meeting. “YOU ARE ON STOLEN LAND” was chanted loudly into the air, as we faced council members who have the privilege of owning a home on land that isn’t theirs while aiming to push homeless people out of Oakland. 

The Coalition to Stop the EMP is aware that this is not the first time the city made policy to abuse unhoused people. Even if the EMP had been rejected, it is no surprise Mayor Schaaf and her cronies betrayed the Oakland community. Our resistance to this racist, anti-homeless policy will be our ongoing commitment to protect those around us who are at risk of being evicted and punished for living in encampments. Mayor Schaaf’s name signed under the Oakland Tree, and the councilmembers surrounding her like its twisted branches, shows no life and no growth in the Bay Area. Only rot and a corrupted system. The EMP may have been under construction for years until now and might look like it is succeeding with its sweeps and tow trucks. But that will never stop the new relationships between local organizations who will rise up and fight back in defense of unhoused citizens. We want permanent housing for all and will not tolerate the continued abuse from the City.

Join the Village Oakland’s rapid response network to receive updates on Oakland encampment evictions (and to mobilize when they’re happening) by texting HOMESNOW to 797979. Join House the Bay’s housing defense text blast by downloading the encrypted messaging app Signal and texting HELLO to +12058507329