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Oakland offers temporary housing to camp residents, but many are reluctant to leave

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The city of Oakland is in the process of removing the last remaining residents from what was once considered Northern California's largest homeless encampment. KQED's Erin Baldassari reports.

ERIN BALDASSARI, BYLINE: At its height, the settlement of unhoused people at Wood Street in West Oakland stretched for more than a mile, with RVs and trailers and makeshift homes tucked underneath a freeway overpass, home to more than 300 people. Over time, people living there built it into a resource hub with a community kitchen, a free store, meeting spaces and storage facilities.

MAHNAZ SABERI: It's all just a crushed dream now.

BALDASSARI: Mahnaz Saberi lived there for more than five years.

SABERI: And I don't know - I don't know. None of us know where we're going to be going. And it's almost like, what's the use? Because they're just going to come and clear out that spot, too.

BALDASSARI: California's Department of Transportation cleared out the bulk of residents back in September. Now the city of Oakland is removing the 60 or so folks who remain. That's in part due to growing complaints from area business owners and neighbors. Kathy Kuhner lives not far from the Wood Street settlement in West Oakland. She's watched the unhoused community here grow. But like a lot of people, she isn't sure what the solution is.

KATHY KUHNER: I think we're a wealthy-enough country that we can take care of people who don't have homes. But I don't think we can allow them to be in the streets, the parks or on public or private property.

BALDASSARI: The city has long planned to redevelop the lot into affordable housing, with 170 condos and apartments. It got $8 million to relocate residents to a temporary shelter made up of tiny cabins. But for residents like LaMonte Ford, who lives in a trailer, going there means giving that up and getting rid of most of his belongings.

LAMONTE FORD: I've been here 10 years. You think I can pack it up in two bags? I can't. I can't even think about packing it up in two bags.

BALDASSARI: And if he goes into the tiny cabins, he says there's no guarantee he'll get into permanent housing. A city audit found fewer than a third of the people who go into this program got long-term homes.

For NPR News, I'm Erin Baldassari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erin Baldassari
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