Oakland to expand managed homeless shantytowns of prefab sheds

Oakland, like San Francisco, has an out-of-control homeless crisis fueled by out-of-control housing prices; like San Francisco (where aid for homelessness can include tents to make outdoor sleeping more comfortable and safe), Oakland is supplying "temporary housing" for homeless people that institutionalizes a kind of living that has heretofore been viewed as a problem in and of itself.

The city is upgrading and refining its "Tuff Shed" camps, where homeless people live with roommates in prefab sheds behind fencing. The camps have shared portable toilets and twice-weekly service by Lava Mae, a charity that operates portable showers for homeless people. While the residents of the Tuff Shed camp are not required to be sober/drug-free, they are not allowed to consume intoxicants in the camp, nor are they allowed to cook in their homes.

Tuff Shed camp residents must sign themselves and any guests in and out of the camp at its gate.

It's hard to know what to make of this. On the one hand, as harm reduction goes, and given the limited resources of Bay Area cities, this is not a terrible idea and shares some of the things that make proven approaches like Housing First work.

On the other hand, it's easy to understand why homeless people, to stand to lose everything if they are robbed, would be leery of having a roommate, and how the inability to cook or consume a substance that you are addicted to in the safety of your home would constitute a major hardship for people already living on the edge.

Mostly, it's just depressing that the richest region of the richest state of the richest country in the world can't do better than this — even as the tech companies that thrive in the area (and whose employees have exacerbated the housing crisis) get away with paying infinitesimal amounts of tax.

The Northgate project cost almost $1 million, including $175,000 for the sheds, $550,000 for onsite staffing and services and a $125,000 fund for helping residents land permanent housing — but the funds came from outside donors, not from the city's coffers.

Watkins was one of several people living in a massive encampment at Northgate and 27th who expressed reservations about moving into the sheds but said they were willing to give it a try.

"I'm hopefully going to give this one a shot," said 31-year-old Jonathan Jacobs. "But if this one doesn't work out, I'm going to have to construct another plan."

To Jacobs, the Tuff Sheds aren't a huge step up from his tent on Northgate.

"We're still here on the street," he said, "it's just on the other side of the street."

Homeless greet Oakland's new Tuff Sheds with hesitation, hope
[Marisa Kendall/East Bay Times]