A columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted just how horrific the homelessness crisis is in California and and one Oakland encampment where over the past two weeks 75 trucks to hauled out a staggering 250 tons of trash.
Despite the obvious threat to public health and safety, the Chronicle report said that the estimated 60 to 80 people believed to live there can remain at least until January.
“And we still have 50 more tons to go,” Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo said in the column. The encampment is in Gallo’s district and is located next to a Home Depot store.
And one official said the move is not designed to shutdown the encampment.
“It’s not a full closure, Joe DeVries, Oakland’s “point man on the homeless” said. “It’s a clean-and-clear.”
The Chronicle report said the city announced the move months ago after Home Depot expressed safety concerns for its customers:
The store even hired a private police squad care to patrol the parking lot and Gallo began leaning media tours calling the situation “out of control.”
Removing homeless camps, however, is tricky – both legally and politically. Homeless advocates routinely challenge such cleanups in federal courts as civil right violators. The city has won four out of four challenges so far, but each takes time and money.
Plus, in the past, city leaders have been reluctant to appear unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless, but that has change in recent months as fires at camps have become more frequent.
Frequent may be an understatement as between January 1 and October 1, 158 confirmed fires related to homeless camps were reported in Oakland.
“The fire problem has become so acute that fire marshals have been assigned to homeless outreach teams,” the column stated.
“The risk to human life at the site due to fire danger is unacceptable,” Oakland Fire Marshal Orlando Arriola said.
“And this site is a perfect example of how impossible the situation has become for the public and the people living there,” DeVries said. “We had a utility pole get burned in one of the structure fires last month that knocked out power to the nearby traffic signals.
“Fire Marshalls did a walk-through of the site and found ‘extremely hazardous fire conditions” amid the broken-down cars, RVs, tents and make-do cabins,” the Chronicle reported.
And in an amazing plan revealed in the column the city moved people from the city-owned land to a privately owned lot so they could complete the trash collection and establish fire lanes before the homeless people are allowed to return.
DeVries compared the plan to good housekeeping.
“It’s a lot like vacuuming your living room,” DeVries said. “If you want to do it right you have to move stuff to one side while you vacuum the other side and vice versa.”
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