Oakland’s Unhoused: Wood Street Commons Refuses to Give Up

Story and photos by Yolanda Catzalco

Note from the editor of the People’s Tribune: The Wood Street Commons is what was recently left of a large long-established community of tents, home-made small dwellings, and vehicles, of originally 300 people, the largest of hundreds of encampments in the gentrifying East Bay city of Oakland, California. Under threat of eviction since last year, the Commons had gotten a restraining order against removal, but this was then lifted, and the City has moved in to destroy and clear the camp. Some of its residents had been there for many years, and formed a close community, giving each other material and emotional aid. Some have been offered ‘tuff sheds’ in another location, but many feel that they are a little better than jail cells. The author of this article, a resident of San Francisco and once homeless herself, writes of what she witnessed and heard while attending a press conference and camp defense, as people’s shelters were destroyed and their possessions tossed into the jaws of the garbage trucks, in an eviction process that could take up to two weeks.

Photos by Yolanda Catzalco - Wood Street Commons eviction week of April 10, 2023.

OAKLAND, CA – On Monday, April 10, the police of Oakland, along with clean-up crew were at 1707 Wood Street to start evicting residents of Wood Street Commons. [As of publication time, Oakland city workers are continuing to clear away dwelling and move residents from the site. The Oakland Department of Public Works posted signs announcing that the sweep will continue through May 3.]

The Bay Area media were there listening to several speakers. One woman had been at Wood Street Commons for over ten years and has been instrumental in working with the city of Oakland. On the same day that she and others were finally able to get Gov. Gavin Newsom to visit the Wood Street Commons last year, her RV was towed and destroyed. Other RVs have been towed, then sold. “The Commons was a pool of our best people; they formed the collective,” she said.

After over 258 fires at the camp, the collective asked the city of Oakland to investigate. One person was arrested and jailed for a few days but soon released. The judge cited safety concerns for closing Wood Street Commons.

170 new units of affordable housing are to be built at the site, with ‘affordable’ being a minimum $70,000 income. Nobody at Wood Street Commons can afford that, not even with vouchers.

The speakers included a doctor from University of California-San Francisco who said “Sweeps cause trauma and they are violent. We need to take the money from the police department and put it into permanent housing.”  Speakers from the Anti-Police Terror Project [APTP] noted that a violent policeman had been assigned to the encampment that day.

As a resident at Wood Street Commons said, “Housing is a human right, and you can’t force people to move and move.”

The residents at Wood Street Commons need your support, and your presence for Eviction Resistance!!!

This article was originally published by The People’s Tribune, which is online at peoplestribune.org. This story has been edited to reflect updates since its initial publication.