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Sep 23, 22

The Real Emergency: Stop the Eviction of Wood Street Residents in Oakland

The following article looks at the current situation facing Wood Street residents in Oakland, California. For more information and background, see the Wood Street Commons website or donate here. The next round of evictions is set to begin Monday, September 26th.

In spite of the many obstacles to basic survival; the unhoused community at Wood St. in West Oakland has demonstrated its capacity for ingenuity and self-reliance by organizing a grass-roots movement to assert their rights to housing and resources.

They now face eviction with no viable options for where to go; as Oakland City Council declares an “emergency” of homelessness, where does the real danger lie? In criminalization, excessive policing and the half-truths and hollow promises of unavailable resources.

Through resident meetings and the presentation of an elegant plan to Federal Judge William Orrick the Wood Street community has risen to the occasion while government agencies point their fingers at each other.

With a Steering Committee of leaders from within their own community, this group of 200+ residents have clearly outlined the crises that unhoused people face by serial eviction and lack of access to necessary resources; and created a comprehensive and affordable plan to build a community of tiny homes, a resource and training center, a place of real healing and belonging.

Wood Street residents are innovating a model of cooperative community so they can play the central role in their own empowerment. This community has shown the ability to operate autonomously, make independent partnerships with various aid organizations and create a dream to be realized, to bridge the gap back to the greater community of Oakland.

The Wood St residents have shown that by coming together they have created community safety:  With community agreements, by sharing food and water, setting up showers, providing medical and emergency supplies, by picking up trash and garbage from illegal dumping, instituting fire safety measures, recycling, by learning how to de-escalate conflicts, creating art and micro-businesses and by generally improving each other’s living conditions; these leaders have fashioned something beautiful out of the hardships and lack endemic of this broken economy.

The residents’ need is simply for land and support; with that this model can make an even greater positive impact to benefit the entire unhoused community, and all of Oakland. The Wood St residents’ proposal calls for the efficient use of 22 acres of vacant land in West Oakland, which will provide employment and safety for this community.

Displacement, towed vehicles/homes, destroyed property, criminalization, obstruction of recovery services, increased risk of mental/emotional illness are just some of the perils residents face when forcibly removed from their homes. In such a situation when the State created dangers are simply allowed to commence; we must infer that these agencies do not truly have safety as their goal. If not safety, then, what is the true motivation behind the evictions? The community at Wood St represents an existential threat to the capitalist state. As such, its institutions refuse to allow a community to thrive— that has been forced to find a way to thrive, largely outside of the purview of the state.

What do the City or County resources offered actually look like? If available; temporary access to congregate shelter beds with strangers, extensive restrictions on personal property, curfews and limits on visitations, cramped lots that have the look and atmosphere of concentration camps; often lacking basic necessities for cooking and cleaning. A humane solution requires the participation and leadership of the unhoused to advocate for themselves in the process of establishing arrangements for safe lives, livelihoods, and the continuation of Community.

The sovereign individuals that come together as a Community at Wood Street are intrinsically deserving of freedom and fair treatment in any process.  Wood St represents a grassroots community based organizational structure that centers people and principles rather than profit and fear. We hold that these cooperative principles are in fact the bedrock of society, and it is through the ongoing process of upholding these principles that the possibility of justice and liberation emerges.

In solidarity with all unhoused!

Stop the evictions now!

Wood Street, our street!

No emergency without empowerment!

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