Oakland drug-free homeless ‘village’ dismantled

Under a corner of Oakland’s MacArthur Maze, where layers of highways climb into the sky and BART screams by one end, a small city park was taken over by a group trying to make a different kind of homeless encampment until it was all torn down Thursday¬†morning.

Known as “The Village” or “The Promised Land,” the small camp took over a section of Grove Shafter Park and Martin Luther King Jr. Way on Jan. 21.

While homeless camps have been a more and more frequent sight in Oakland in recent years, this one aimed to be different.

There had been five structures in the small camp, constructed with pallets, plywood and two-by-fours while the rest of the 16 people living there stayed in a row of tents. Aside from them the camp offered services to hundreds of people a week, organizer Needa Bee said today.

Within a few days of moving in they had added portable toilets and a handwashing station. A few days later they added a hot shower and were providing basic medical care and food.

The camp had rules against drinking and drugs so some residents came there in an effort to get sober. Other people stayed there temporarily, such as when camps elsewhere were shut down late at night.

But residents were abruptly awoken this morning to dozens of police officers and public works employees who told them to leave with what they could and loaded what was left into garbage trucks. One person was arrested as they attempted to stop the destruction.

On Friday the city posted notice that the camp had 18 health and safety violations, calling the structures fire hazards, digging gardens the destruction of public property, objecting to the portable toilets and identifying their presence in the park there without a permit as a “public nuisance,” city spokeswoman Karen Boyd said.

On Monday they were given a 72-hour notice to vacate.

Boyd said the city had received complaints about the camp, including from people who felt displaced from the park and unable to use it.

She said the city leases the land from Caltrans to operate a park there.

The park will be closed for an unspecified period for restoration. How long depends on what the city’s Parks and Recreation Department finds is necessary, Boyd said:

“We are looking at various ways to address the homeless crisis.”

But Bee drew unfavorable comparisons between the Village and an experiment by the city in sanctioning a homeless encampment, at 35th and Magnolia streets, where there have been reports of extensive heroin use:

“(The Village) is a people’s encampment. … The city created that mess over there.”

Bee added:

“I’m disgusted by the mayor and disgusted by the administrator. … We actually did something that they were unable to do.”

Supporters of the Village spoke extensively during public comment periods at Tuesday’s City Council meeting hoping to find some support for keeping the camp open, but were apparently unsuccessful.

Daniel Weaver, a resident at the promised land, said he has a part-time job but remains homeless:

“I need to be able to brush my teeth and take a shower and get to work. If I’m going to get my act together I need a place.”