Oakland, CA

West Oakland activist group sues city over homeless encampments

Built in the Bay

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

By Ian Firstenberg

(OAKLAND, Calif.) Neighbors Together Oakland, an activist group based out of West Oakland founded by district 3 city council candidate Seneca Scott, filed a lawsuit against the city of Oakland this week.

The suit demands that the city enforce its encampment management policy that was passed last October.

According to the suit, as reported by The East Bay Times, the city's failure to effectively implement the new policy has left large swathes of the unhoused population at risk. The suit details that between November 2020 and June 2021 there were 510 encampment fires throughout the city.

Oakland residents are subject to "the constant threat of disease, build up of abandoned cars and wrecked vehicles, vermin, and human waste," the suit read.

Seneca Scott, the group's founder, spoke to the Times about the policy failure.

"You can't ignore your own policy because it may upset your political base, especially at the expense of our public health and safety, or the security of our parks, homes and businesses," he said.

The city did not respond to the Times' request for comment.

The policy focuses on encampments near schools, roadways or other infrastructure and differentiates between high-sensitivity areas and low-sensitivity areas. High-sensitivity areas are designated as such by the city council and also can include "parks, protected waterways, and other public lands."

The policy elaborates that high sensitivity areas "are locations where the health and safety impacts of homeless encampments are heightened due to the potential degradation of critical infrastructure or significant obstructions to residences, businesses, emergency routes and rights-of-way."

This policy makes no mention of how high-sensitivity areas, like those by the lake or similar encampments along 5th and 7th streets, would be handled. The policy notes that the health and safety requirements put in place by the policy at high-sensitivity areas would be upheld by a managing agency. Encampments in low-sensitivity areas would be under the jurisdiction of EMTs.

The lawsuit filed by Neighbors Together Oakland isn't looking for financial compensation but rather a court order that gives the city 60 days to clarify who handles encampment management policy and enact recommendations outlined in the city auditor's report. Similarly, the lawsuit pushes for the closures of encampments in high-sensitivity areas or schools, businesses or residences.

The suit would require city officials to find housing for displaced residents of the camp.

Since 2019, as the economic conditions have grown significantly more dire in light of pandemic-related restrictions, Oakland's unhoused population has grown by nearly half.

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