Homelessness: The Community Has Acted-What Will Oakland Do ?
Guest Commentary by James E Vann for the Homeless Advocacy Working Group
Presentation of Plan to the City Council
On May 23rd and May 30th, the ad hoc Homeless Advocacy Working Group presented a comprehensive plan of action to ameliorate the homeless crisis. The homelessness proposal — the product of 4 months of meetings and the collaboration of dedicated advocates to seriously address Oakland’s escalating crisis — was presented to both the Life Enrichment Committee and the full City Council for consideration.
Concurrently, the Human Services Department presented a profile of Oakland’s homeless crisis and a $2 Million composite budget based on hoped-for funds from HUD, OHA, and Alameda County. $300,000 of the Human Resources proposed budget is credited to the Oakland General Fund, but only for the 2018 mid-budget cycle and would be solely dependent on potential and unknown increases in other sources of revenue, namely cannabis taxes and fees from the escalation in real estate prices.
Mayor Schaaf’s FY 17-19 budget proposed only $250,000 over 2 years for homelessness programs.
This amount, however, is already exceeded by the unbudgeted expense of at least $210,638 in 2016 alone for cleaning and dismantling homeless encampments throughout the city. City spending to date has had virtually no discernible impact in reducing homelessness. Meanwhile, the homeless crisis continues to escalate while the current level of city funding is totally at odds with the accelerating growth of homelessness.
Study Shows 39% Increase in Homelessness
The just released 2017 biennial homeless “Point-in-Time Survey” for Alameda County shows a 39% increase since 2015 in the number of homeless persons on the streets. The fact that homelessness is decimating Oakland neighborhoods and blighting the entire city, and will only continue to grow, seems not to have gotten sufficient attention from city leaders.
Homelessness must be acknowledged as the priority crisis in Oakland and must be treated and funded as such. Legislative and financial responses to the accelerating crisis to date have been totally inadequate. The Department of Human Resources can compile statistical metrics and produce reports but lacks the resources needed to provide the monitoring and oversight required of multi-faceted projects and services dispersed throughout the city. In order to effectively address this crisis the skills of the Human Resources Department must be augmented with the creativity, resources, and outreach of a community-based Task Force.
Proposal of the Working Group
This 4 page organizational proposal puts forward a workable program and budget drawn from Measure KK and general funds which, together with available outside financial resources, will produce a visible and measurable impact on the negative effects of the crisis. Specifically, the proposal of the Homeless Advocacy Working Group would:Re-institute the 2016 “Oakland Shelter Crisis Declaration,” with authorization for private property involvement; and annual renewal of the ordinance.
- Authorize and staff the Working Group as the “Oakland Homeless Housing Task Force” to function as an open and inclusive collaborative-representing a cross-section of views and interests of the general public, including homeless, community, and organization advocates with directives to coordinate with public and private agencies for grants, services, and co-funding.
- Empower the Task Force to develop proposals for (a) various “camper” installations; (b) portable/modular transition housing developments; (c) tiny houses, including ‘Tuff-Shed’-type facilities; (d) tiny house agreements at volunteer homeowner sites; (e) weather-protection shelter roofs; (f) SRO-type buildings; (g) repurposing of vacant and available warehouse-industrial-commercial-institutional buildings; (h) privacy installations; (i) utilization of vacant houses, where appropriate (particularly for large families and women-headed households); legislative proposals relating to “vehicular dwellings” and “right to sleep;” and (j) to bring forth recommendations, timelines, and budgets for implementation.
- Direct the Task Force to assess and implement recommendations for needed supports and services, including: (a) porta-potties (b) potable water; (c) K-rail traffic separators; (d) site security; (e) site management; (f) counseling for substance abuse-medical-mental occurrences; (h) harm reduction; (i) home navigators; and (j) “compassionate” outside support servicers (police, fire safety, environmental health, vector control; education & training, skill services, pet care & animal control, licensing, etc).
- Direct the Task Force to assess appropriate “sites” for relevant uses, including costs and impacts.
- Allocate from Measure KK and general budget funds an initial year budget for homelessness programs and expenses of $10 Million, and a continuing annual budget of $5 Million to efficiently initiate programs of relief and positive impact on the crisis of homelessness in the shortest amount of time.
For years, the City has experienced a growing and spreading homeless crisis. In January 2015, the City Council enacted a 12-month “Emergency State of Homelessness Declaration.” Despite the emergency declaration and the fact that the crisis continues to worsen, city actions and expenditures have been practically non-existent. It is undeniable that the “homeless problem” will not go away on its own, but instead will continue to worsen.
At this time of escalating homelessness and its attendant problems, it is imperative that Oakland act … and act decisively. The Proposal of the Working Group demonstrates both the capacity and commitment to mobilize needed resources, projects, and services that can truly make a difference.