Oakland Weighs No-Go Zones for Homeless Near Schools, Businesses

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Photo by flightlog via Flickr

The city of Oakland, CA. is considering a policy to prevent homeless people from setting up camps too close to schools and businesses, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The new policy, to be voted on Tuesday by the city council, would classify areas such as schools, parks, businesses, homes, and playgrounds as “high sensitivity,” requiring encampments to be 50 feet away– 150 feet away for schools.

Encampments in high sensitivity areas will only be allowed if the business or residency is “nonprofit, faith-based or advocacy” related. These exceptions have to be authorizedby city council members.

“Low sensitivity” areas allow for encampments without as many restrictions, but still require them to stay on one side of the street and say they can’t interfere with pedestrian traffic or bike lanes, the article says.

Under the new policy, the city would provide garbage and sanitation services to encampments, and each encampment must adhere to fire and building codes.

While city employees are expected to take a soft approach to the rules—persuading the homeless to leave the designated areas, rather than  arresting them–the new policy has already attracted opposition.

Opponents see it as a way to criminalize the homeless, forcing them to relocate to areas that are out of sight to the rest of the population, and moving them farther away from affordable transportation and grocery shopping.

“It’s going to cause so much harm,” said Needa Bee, an advocate for the homeless, told reporters. “It maintains property values, but at the cost of human lives

A protest against the policy is planned for Monday.

While the policy does offer temporary shelter beds to encampments that are shut down due to health or safety issues, the author of the article notes that they do this without “focusing on transitioning them into permanent housing.”

Those encampments that do get shut down will get a 72-hour warning.

Oakland has long struggled with a homelessness crisis, one of which has seen an uptick in the past three years. Fom 2017 to 2019 there was a 47 percent increase in Oakland’s homeless population, and a 68 percent increase in their unsheltered population, The Chronicle reported.

The policy came into question after residents and business owners complained about the continuing homelessness issue in the city. Residents have claimed “drug dealings, fires and prostitution,” happen in their neighborhood due to the camps; businesses say that the crisis has caused them to lose customers.

The new policy is seen by city leaders as a “more compassionate” way to target the city’s homelessness crisis. The policy comes after years of the city searching for a way to control their homelessness problem, including a city-wide crackdown in December that never ended up being proposed due to protests and a call for complete overhaul of their current system in February.

Homelessness in Oakland and the rest of the country faces increasing issues as COVID causes continued job loss and the spread of the virus quickly through encampment sites.

Read more: ‘Over-Enforcement’ During Pandemic Drives More Homelessness into Jail

Emily Riley is a TCR justice reporting intern.

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