Abel’s news: Addressing homelessness in Oakland, a look at progress over the past year

Homelessness and housing affordability is the number one issue affecting Oaklanders. Throughout the state, there are an estimated 134,000 people who are homeless – and millions of Californians are increasingly housing-insecure. This is a regional, state and nationwide problem, with no help in sight from the federal government. That is why the City Council has taken a position in support of Proposition 1, which would provide $4 billion for affordable housing for families, seniors and veterans.

As your Councilmember, I have also worked hard to champion innovative local approaches such as “tiny homes” made in Oakland by Laney students and funding cleaning teams of unsheltered individuals around Lake Merritt to immediate, temporary actions like cabin villages and navigation centers with wraparound support services to longer-term strategies like implementing my new Public Lands Policy that prioritizes affordable housing.

These are individual, small steps forward but taken together they form a meaningful response to this problem. At times, it may seem like the approach is piecemeal, but in this edition of my district newsletter, I hope to provide a more comprehensive look at what we’re doing. I also want to make sure you know about Oakland’s homeless response, where you can learn more about how you can get involved.

We’re making progress and there’s more to do to provide healthy, affordable shelter for everybody. With your continued help and support, Oakland is up to the challenge.

In service,



Preventing Homelessness Is a First-Step Measure
Last week, the City launched its “Keep Oakland Housed” program to help prevent residents from losing their housing and support those living in temporary housing. The City’s partnership will be implemented by three nonprofit agencies (Bay Area Community Services, Catholic Charities of the East Bay and the East Bay Community Law Center), with services including emergency financial assistance, legal representation and housing supportive services.

The San Francisco Foundation, with a major contribution from Kaiser Permanente, provided $9 million in funding to sustain the program through 2022.

Information about these critical emergency services will be available on 211, KeepOaklandHoused.org and multilingual materials distributed by each agency.

The pilot program focuses on residents at risk of losing their current housing. Program services are available to Oakland residents experiencing a housing crisis who have a household income at or below 50% of the area median income, with priority given to extremely low-income households. Tenants who need cash for housing could receive up to $7,000 in checks made out to landlords or third-party providers. Residents facing eviction lawsuits are also eligible for legal representation.

Winter Shelters Year-Round and a Safe Place for Homeless Vehicles
The City Council voted last week to expand our winter shelter beds so they will serve homeless residents year-round.

Because a number of homeless residents live in vehicles parked on Oakland streets, we also allocated $300,000 for a safe-parking program in partnership with the faith community as one of the many emergency responses to homelessness in our city.

The safe-parking grants could be used to pay for such expenses as porta-potties and hand-washing stations, site security, black-water pumping services for RVs, and/or additional liability-insurance costs. This program could be expanded if the City’s application for state funding is approved.

Protecting Residential Hotels for Very Low-Income Oaklanders
The current moratorium to prevent the further loss of Oakland’s residential hotels expires in December. In advance of that date, the City Council is considering permanent regulations that will restrict the conversion, demolition and certain types of rehabilitation of residential hotels. The item will be heard at the Council’s October 30 meeting. 


YEAR IN REVIEW | Helping the Homeless

Homelessness is one part of the larger housing affordability crisis in Oakland, the region and California. Nationwide, 22 states also saw an increase in homelessness last year – we’re facing a national crisis, not just a local problem.

The City of Oakland has pulled together information about our community’s package of available resources and actions we’re taking to help address the problem for our most vulnerable residents. The new website also provides actionable resources and information about how residents, businesses and community organizations can support the City and our partners in this complex work. Read more (please share this link with your neighbors)

Here are some of the steps I’ve pushed through in the past year to help us get homeless residents off the streets, into safe, healthy shelter and onto a pathway toward more permanent housing.

Cabins for Homeless around Lake Merritt Open
The 20 shelter cabins on the Kaiser Auditorium parking lot are up, with the electrical and insulation work now completed. Thirty of the 40 new residents have moved in there already, and City staff expect the cabins to be completely occupied soon.

The cabins Oakland take another small, emergency step to help people who have no shelter: (1) They provide emergency, temporary shelters that are safer, healthier places than tents in the park or under bridges. (2) They provide a central place that will help connect residents to support services, connections to health, mental health and addiction-recovery services, and job opportunities. The site will also connect mainstream services such as MediCal, food stamps, GA and SSI. (3) They offer a place – a temporary bridge – where we can help people get into more stable living conditions and permanent housing.

The site is completely voluntary, and residents can come and go as they please. The site includes basic sanitary services such as porta-potties, hand-washing stations and garbage service, access to mobile shower facilities, privacy (two people per cabin with a choice of their roommate; and peace of mind of a lock and key), electricity to each cabin, storage for personal possessions, site security and a community tent with TV, microwave and water.

This is the third such community site in Oakland, and will specifically serve people who are homeless near Lake Merritt. More than 125 people have been served by the first two sites since the 6th St. and Castro St. cabins in West Oakland opened last December, and many have gone on to more permanent or transitional housing, new jobs and been connected to healthcare and financial benefits. The second site, at 27th St. and Northgate Ave., open in May and has also improved public health and safety conditions.

The 63% success rate (exiting homelessness) is about double the positive exit rate at a traditional shelter (about 30%), and is closer to the 88% success rate achieved by the Henry Robinson Multi-Service Center, which is what we need to scale to really address this crisis.


Tiny Homes Underscore Local Students’ Homelessness Plight
I spent two nights in September living in one of two new tiny homes in advance of homeless Laney College students moving in. As you may recall, I previously secured an $80,000 City grant to fund “Pocket Houses” – Laney College’s tiny-home program, an innovative City-college partnership that seeks to promote a new form of housing for homeless people.

We know that the regional homelessness crisis has escalated in the past couple of years. One of the overlooked segments of the growing homeless population in the East Bay is young community-college students: 14% (1 in 7) of Laney students are homeless. 

This project helps raise public awareness (SF Chronicle, KRON-4, NBC, CBS), and marks a practical, though small, step to address the problem.

The two tiny homes (a “small” and “medium” prototype) were built by Laney carpentry students and have found a home in the parking lot of West Side Missionary Baptist Church, thanks to the generosity of Reverend Ken Chambers and others who have helped make it a reality.  

These tiny homes offer dignified housing for students who currently do not have a home. At the tiny-home site, students will also receive individualized wrap-around support services as they move toward finding more permanent housing – and pursue their studies.

Cleaning Teams of Unsheltered Individuals
As part of the Council’s mid-cycle budget, I was happy that my pilot program to engage our unsheltered residents in cleaning Lake Merritt while providing them social services was approved. This program, run by Downtown Streets, will help the homeless help themselves while helping to tidy up our parks and open spaces. The City Council allocated $85,000 in its mid-cycle budget to fund homeless resident efforts to help green and clean the city. After getting a start last week, one crew member said, “we are making a natural area look beautiful for people who are homeless here and people who are walking through.”

Mid-cycle Budget Adjustments Add More Funding for Homeless Programs
This summer, the City Council unanimously approved a substantial package of mid-cycle adjustments to the FY 2017-19 biennial budget that I spearheaded to help address Oakland’s most pressing needs, including crucial funding to reduce homelessness. The City allocated an additional $8.6 million in state grants to implement the City’s comprehensive set of strategies to respond to Oakland’s homelessness crisis, including effective coordination of county, state and city investments that best leverage our resources at this critical time, and will spend another $1 million on immediate sanitation, health and hygiene services for unsheltered residents.

Oakland to Receive More County Funds for Homeless Shelter and Services
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors awarded the City of Oakland $633,320 to address homelessness in our community as part of its Unsheltered Homeless Immediate Impact grants. The new funding will help cover the annual operating costs of Oakland’s second Outdoor Navigation Center ($530,000); provide family motel vouchers and short-term Rapid Rehousing funds ($50,000); and provide portable toilets and wash stations at five homeless encampments ($53,320). Thanks to the Supervisors for their support – and to all the Oaklanders who helped me advocate for these much-needed resources.

City Acquires New Homeless Center for Shelter and Services
This spring, the City Council voted to acquire a single-room occupancy hotel on West Grand Ave., which will expand the number of City-owned shelter beds for homeless residents. The building (641 W. Grand near I-980) will provide a second navigation center – like the existing Henry Robinson Multi-Service Center – that provides housing and support services for recently homeless people. The building has 70 units with shared bathrooms and a single kitchen on each floor. The building was purchased with funds from Measure KK, the 2016 bond measure for affordable housing that I co-authored. As renovations are completed, I hope that this new building will open in the first quarter of next year.

More Housing and Support Services for the Homeless
As we look for a combination of shelter and support services for homeless individuals, the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (601 Webster St.) now has beds available for homeless men aged 21-62 who are looking for help with drug and alcohol dependencies. The free program requires a minimum stay of six months, and admission is voluntary.

The City Council also approved $1 million in grants over the next two years to administer Safe Haven outdoor navigation centers, including $600,000 to Operation Dignity and $400,000 to Bay Area Community Services.

As part of its efforts to help provide more shelter for homeless people during the upcoming winter months (running through June 2018), the City Council also approved a $250,000 grant to the Society of St. Vincent De Paul and a $108,000 grant to Bay Area Community Services, and will expand funding to St. Mary’s Center by $15,000 and to the East Oakland Community Project by $22,000. The new year-round shelter at St. Vincent De Paul will provide shelter for up to 100 of unhoused residents.