"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done" - Protestant Episcopal Church 1928 U.S. Book of Common Prayer


Libby Schaaf's Homeless Plan

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf hugging supporter at Kaiser Convention Center Tuff Shed camp.

Posted on the OGS Website October 17, 2018

Is Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf working from a comprehensive, professionally-created, well-thought-out, well-developed plan to address, attack, and end Oakland’s homeless crisis?

If so, she’s been hiding it from the rest of us.

Creation of such a homeless plan would have had to be started in the first weeks of the Schaaf mayoral administration at the beginning of 2015. Even then, it was clear to anyone observing that Oakland’s homeless “situation” was becoming a full-blown crisis.

Such a mayoral-commissioned homeless plan would have started with a full-range study of the nature of the growing problem—who was living in Oakland’s streets and why, what economic, social, and political forces were driving people into homelessness, what strategies were needed to get them out.

Using this analysis and drawing upon the best, experienced minds from Oakland’s advocacy and faith communities, law enforcement professionals, political and social activists, and academics and students from the city’s many nearby colleges and universities, and others, a roadmap would have been developed on short-term strategies to both get people off the street into transitional housing as well as to better the conditions of those still on the street, and long-term strategies for permanent solutions and to help prevent such homelessness from reoccurring.

Such a mayor-commissioned comprehensive homeless plan—begun in the early days of the Schaaf Administration in 2015—would have taken some time to develop, probably a year to do the job right. While the plan was in the making, some preliminary actions could have been taken to ease the conditions of Oakland’s homeless population. By the beginning of 2016, a comprehensive Oakland homeless plan would have been in place and its implementation begun, and by now we would have been seeing positive results.

That’s how governments, businesses, and organizations address a problem that they are actually serious about solving.

But we have no evidence that there ever was a comprehensive Schaaf plan to end Oakland’s homeless crisis, nor any attempt to create one. Without a plan, there can only be chaos, and that’s what we have been witnessing from the City of Oakland during the time Libby Schaaf has been in office.

Over the past three-plus years, as the homeless crisis has become a potential political crisis for Ms. Schaaf, the Schaaf Administration has put forward a series of disjointed, haphazard efforts that seem specifically designed to make it look like the administration was “doing something,” with little actual thought or planning as to where those various “somethings” were going to end up.

For example:

* Suggesting, as Mayor Schaaf once did, that one of the solutions to Oakland’s homelessness was for the city’s housed residents to open up spare rooms in their houses to the homeless. This was, perhaps, the most unworkable, ridiculous, and least-likely-to-be-implemented suggestion coming out of the Schaaf Administration’s homeless policies.

* Breaking up street communities without concern for the resulting destruction of the many positive, self-created and self-sustained leadership and  support systems that many of them contained, making street life less stable and more dangerous for both the homeless and people living in the homes that surround them.

* Breaking up organized street communities without providing enough city-sanctioned transitional housing for the displaced street residents to move into, pushing the left-out, evicted street dwellers deeper into the surrounding neighborhoods.

* Failure to create enough sanctioned areas where street communities could relocate when city and police officials decided their current location could not be continued, forcing these communities into a permanent state of disorganization as they were pushed from place to place.

* The 23rd Avenue Village debacle, where street residents were enticed—or forced—into moving from their “illegal” encampments into one of Oakland’s few city-sanctioned camp locations, only to be forced out again in a few months after city officials “discovered” that the CalTrans-owned property where the 23rd Avenue Village was located was need for another use.

* While a permanent solution was being worked out that would get homeless communities off the street and into safe locations and housing, failure to create a dialogue between the city, residents of the street communities, and residents and businesses within the surrounding neighborhoods in an effort to develop guidelines and a working relationship so that the existing street communities could continue to operate—for a time—with a maximum of convenience and safety to themselves and a minimum of inconvenience to their neighbors.

* Creating so-called “Tuff Shed” campsites that were billed as transitional housing, without having worked on, developed, and implemented a plan and program that would designate how long those “temporary” campsites would remain in place before being moved into permanent housing, or identifying where that permanent housing could and would be found. Without a permanent housing solution in place for Tuff Shed residents, the only possible conclusion is that either these “temporary” Tuff Shed camps will eventually become “permanent” themselves or, when the city becomes tired of maintaining them, they would simply be shut down and the residents pushed out into the street again.

These were all, by their very nature, intended as temporary solutions to Oakland’s homeless crisis, while a permanent solution was being developed and put into place. But rather than making the homeless situation better, these chaotic and reactive—rather than pro-active—actions by the Schaaf Administration made the situation worse, contributing to a continuing disruption of individuals living in on the streets, making it harder for them to create for themselves the safe and organized communities that ought to be the short-term goal of any city homeless solution plan, making it easier for the disruptive, predatory, mentally-disturbed, and drug-addicted portion that makes up some of the homeless community to predominate.

But while everyone agrees that the permanent solution was to eventually get all of Oakland’s homeless into a brick or wood permanent home and to prevent such homelessness on a such a large scale from reoccurring, where was Mayor Schaaf’s plan to actually implement such a permanent solution?

At long last, the mayor informs us that she has found one.

This week, the Schaaf Administration announced it has created a $9 million, privately-funded initiative called Keep Oakland Housed and designed to “provid[e] emergency financial assistance, free legal representation and other supportive services to people on the brink of losing their homes,” according to the Mercury News (“Oakland's $9 Million Homeless Solution; City Launches New Preventive ProgramMercury News October 15, 2018).

Why does this count as Ms. Schaaf’s bid for a “permanent” homeless solution.

That’s because the Mercury News article also notes that, “Schaaf hopes Keep Oakland Housed will make the city’s prior efforts—including the Tuff Sheds—unnecessary and obsolete.”

In other words, Ms. Schaaf’s wants us to believe that her “hope” is that with the introduction of this new initiative to keep people from being kicked out of their housing, Oakland’s homeless problem will be solved, since no other city action will be necessary. And all of this is projected to be accomplished in only four years time, as the Keep Oakland Housed program, the article informs us, is scheduled to run only through 2022.

Ms. Schaaf didn’t even bother to explain whether the $9 million figure in the Keep Oakland Housed budget was all that was needed for such an ambitious effort and, if that wasn’t enough, where the remainder is projected to come from.

Is there anyone in Oakland who actually believes this will happen, other than hard-core Libby Schaaf supporters or apologists?

There does, actually, appear to be a strategy and a plan behind all of this. But if you’re looking for a plan to solve Oakland’s homeless crisis, don’t bother. What it seems to be—from all available evidence—is a plan to get Mayor Schaaf through this crisis with a minimum of political damage, re-elected in November, and well on her way to whatever her new position is projected to be before Oakland residents wise up to the game. And so we’ve been witness to a program by the Schaaf Administration of shaking up the game board every week or so, moving the homeless from place to place, hoping to keep them out of sight as much as possible, throwing up new initiatives with new promises every now and then, with the purpose of appearing to be working towards a homeless solution while really only trying to get through the November elections.

That plan of protecting Ms. Schaaf’s self-interests, at least, seems to be well thought-out, staffed with professionals, and working fine, so far.




Front Page

Why An "Oakland's Getting Schaafted" Website

In The News

Our Thoughts On The Libby Schaaf Administration

What Others Are Thinking And Saying—Opinion Pieces About The Schaaf Administration

The Trashing Of Oakland

Schaaf And Oakland's Homeless Crisis