The Affordable “Homeless” Housing Crisis — Part 2 An interview with Joe DeVries

In part two of my in depth interview with Joe DeVries, Assistant to the City of Oakland Administrator, DeVries explains Standard Operating Procedures are A. they give them 72 hours notice in advance, B. they will be offered outreach services (hygiene supplies, blankets, and counsel, C. When doing the clean-ups if they find medicine, photo albums or anything of value, the department of public works will leave a note of where they can call to retrieve their belongings

In getting and ensuring that the homeless to “not return” to the same location once an encampment has been cleaned up involves the Oakland Police getting involved letting them know that they cannot return to an encampment. Sometimes it takes a visit or two by the police at 5 am, waking them up, because no one wants to be woke up at 5 am so this procedure has proven to be an effective tactic. That’s how they get rid of an encampment. They come right back a few times before the encampment is relocated. Usually an encampment relocation is due to residential complaints or those encampments that are having an impact on the neighboring communities.. While it doesn’t end homelessness, DeVries says it is necessary under these and similar circumstances.

An encampment once located at 23rd and Martin Luther King was located on part Caltrans, part City of Oakland property lines. One tent was filled with dirt. like a giant litter box, DeVries explained. The neighbors could smell it in their houses. also while getting broken into. There was quite a bit of criminal element, the homeless were doing their business (urinate or bowel movement) in view and the all around activity was off the hook as DeVries recalls. In this situation the Oakland police department, Caltrans, California Highway Patrol and the City of Public Works all showed up in full force informing them that they have to GO. They arrested a couple of people that had serious amounts of heroin on them, one tent was full of stolen electronic equipment. In these cases criminal intervention took place. Some of them migrated over to San Pablo and Grand Avenues. At this location currently, the homeless are not affecting neighboring homes. While the Veteran’s hospital is nearby and they “hate it” says DeVries, the hospital is enclosed and sealed.They apologize to them and let them know they are cleaning up after them every week.

There are fences that distinguish what is Caltrans property with signs saying that it is state property and trespassing is illegal, otherwise it is considered to be the City of Oakland’s property. Sometimes the police will ticket them for being on the sidewalk but DeVries explains that it is really pointless as these people don’t have the money to pay the tickets anyhow. “More people are located on Caltrans property than on city streets, you just don’t see them,” says DeVries.

The Embarcadero bridge is being tore down because it is seismically unsafe. “There are homeless people that have been there for decades,” says DeVries. They were shocked he explains, with them saying, “but this is our home, we’ve been here forever,” to which DeVries replies, “I know, sorry but you also have been here illegally forever.” He describes their elaborate setups including, wooden structures, multi level units, kitchen, and where they have tapped into people’s electricity, with wiring, and generators even.

Healthcare is covered by the county through referral. Outreach team works with the county. The Trust clinic recently opened and is county funded at 14th and Franklin in Oakland. The Alameda County Healthcare for the Homeless, is a federally funded 30 million dollar program, that includes Highland Hospital also known as ACMC (Alameda County Medical Center), Hayward Wellness Clinic, Fairmont Hospital, John George Psychiatric Hospital, The Eastmont Clinic, San Leandro, and Alameda hospitals all fall under what is called the Alameda Health System. They offer mobile healthcare units and have doctors with backpacks as well that go out to address the homeless’ needs. A lot of the homeless end up in emergency at Highland hospital, some have mental conditions and end up at John George. Unfortunately, when they are out of danger they are returned back to wherever they lived near per the patient’s request.

It is easy to sit back in judgement of these people, and for those who believe in a higher power, we are all God’s Children. This is America, one of the richest countries in the world. I plan to dig into this topic further in advocacy for those that cannot help themselves. I pray there are a few of you out there who would like to join me in this crusade.

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