Oakland is Homeless

Whenever someone speaks of the homeless or of being homeless, the image in my mind is most always that of the person sleeping on the streets and of people in homeless encampments. The person who doesn’t have the basic necessities to maintain hygiene, or looks different from you or I on the outside. Those are the people that come to mind when I think of the homeless.

Although there are several homeless people that we can’t visually see, it is the ones that I see living in substandard conditions increasing by the tents that make me ask why is it this way in one of the richest countries in the world? Who is responsible for the homeless in the streets of Oakland? Who are these people living in these encampments comprised of? For example, are they the educated, the mentally ill, the drug addicted, the misplaced worker, the vicious cycle of broken homes, discrimination, poverty, or all of the previous mentioned and more?

For my Senior Project at CSUEB I chose over my love of sports, to explore, inquire, and seek information of the lives of the homeless, and/or drug addicts in their addiction and recovery process. As it relates to homelessness in the streets I chose to focus specifically on the city of Oakland, CA because I frequent Oakland more than I do San Francisco and I see the need more than any other city in the East Bay.

For this segment I am introducing the ideas and exploration of the people in Oakland living in homeless encampments or living out of shopping carts, carrying around sleeping bags, luggage, etc. For it is them that we see on the streets, for it is them that we see visually that are considered to be a nuisance or simply put, an eyesore.

I was one of those people at one time as a result of my getting hooked on drugs. Now with 17 years of abstinence from any mind altering substances, I as a college student majoring in Communications at California State University, am currently homeless. OK, not technically, meaning I have a roof over my head, but there have been times where I’ve had to sleep in my car between classes and moving.

I am a 54 year old black female and I rent rooms as a college student. I have had many challenges as an addict in recovery and I am grateful for the help I receive through 12 Step programs, but what I have come to understand over the years is that it is getting harder and harder to stay afloat in the good ole land of opportunity, at least for me, and if it is for me (keeping in mind that I am a fighter) I have to wonder about the people who have lost hope because of so many restrictions and limitations of the category of homelessness they fall into. What I mean by category is that if you are single with no children, you are LAST on the list of people who get help from the services that are available in our society.

Before I narrow it down to Oakland’s numbers, I want to share some of the numbers that we don’t see of the homeless and then think about the increasing masses of those we are beginning to see.

Future in Humanity is a non-profit organization that assists homeless of all religions, races, creed and color in transitioning back into being able to care for themselves. According to Future in Humanity, a non — a profit organization, The numbers documenting the homeless in the United States are alarming. The diagram below reveals those numbers itemized in the article for easier reading and comparisons.

Homeless man waves at me as I capture his photo at Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA (photo by Brenda Brown)

According to an article in the East Bay Express (December 2015), “Oakland spent $72,000 dollars closing 162 homeless camps in 2015.” Health threats, lacking sanitation, crime, weather exposure and traffic issues are a few of the reasons the encampments are closed. Living in the Bay Area is expensive and with the rising costs, while more people are being reduced to poverty levels, it is not difficult to figure out why the homeless we see on the streets of Oakland are increasing.

The East Bay Express reported that, “There are currently 4,040 homeless people in Alameda County, according to the most recent count by Everyone Home, a nonprofit that coordinates Alameda County’s homeless services. About half of the county’s homeless, 2,190 people, live in Oakland. But there are only 350 to 410 shelter beds in Oakland, according to the city, so approximately 1,384 homeless people sleep on Oakland’s streets and in its parks every night. As rents continue to reach record highs, many fear that the numbers of newly homeless people will increase. According to city records, 69 percent of Oakland’s homeless are Black, even though only 28 percent of the city’s total population is Black.”

My guess is of the 69 percent of homeless blacks are people who have been incarcerated as a result of drug addiction and alcoholism and were unable to find employment as a result of the system that rarely hires felons, or even those with misdemeanors on their record.