California to shut down another homeless site - this time in a Home Depot lot

Alex Woodward
Former presidential candidate Julian Castro toured an Oakland homeless encampment that officials plan to remove: Getty Images

Officials in Oakland plan to remove dozens of homeless people living in a makeshift encampment in a Home Depot parking lot, months after the California city warned its residents that it planned to shut down the site.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, people living at the site in tents and cars will be offered open beds at area shelter or moved into small temporary housing structures in one of seven "community cabin" sites.

People living in RVs at the encampment will be moved to a "safe RV parking" lot, officials told the newspaper.

The move is expected by the second week of March.

People began moving into the encampment at least three years ago. As many as 100 people live at the site, which fills a parking lot adjacent to a Home Depot.

Roughly half of the US homeless population lives in California.

According to a January 2019 snapshot of Alameda County's homeless population, the number of unsheltered residents has grown by 43 per cent over the last two years. That figure had spiked to 8,022 homeless people last year.

California authorities have entered protracted legal battles to shut down several sites across the state, citing health and safety hazards while underscoring the depth of poverty in one of the most wealthy states in the US.

First-term Governor Gavin Newsom proposed more than $1.4bn for the state's budget to address the crisis and support local governments with housing efforts.

News of the latest closure follows the forced eviction a group of homeless mothers from a vacant home they occupied for two months. Heavily armed sheriff's deputies removed them from the building and arrested two of the women. The group, Moms 4 Housing, ultimately reached an agreement with Oakland authorities and the Oakland Community Land Trust to sell them the property at a price that doesn't exceed the appraised value.

Oakland officials also announced another "community cabin" site in Oakland intended to house up to 38 people within 19 bright green structures. The emergency housing program launched in 2017 to serve as "temporary bridge from the sidewalk to services, from the street to housing", according to the city.

The program has temporarily housed 600 people, and nearly half of the people who lived in one of the garden-cabin shaped buildings has moved to more permanent or other supportive housing, officials said.

More than 200 people have received a driver's license and 145 have found jobs while living in the cabins.

Cabins are insulated with double-paned windows, a locking door and USB ports. Portable toilets are available, and a shower trailer makes regular visits to each site.

Community health groups act as partner organisations to help transition cabin residents out of homelessness.

Advocacy groups has criticised the program for the cabins' lack of running water and for declaring nearby areas "no-camping zones" that effectively criminalise homelessness, once people are housed within the temporary shelters.

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