Matt Agorist, Thefreethoughtproject.com
Oakland, CA — Known as ‘The Promised Land,’ a group of homeless people in Oakland sought to improve their situation by creating a camp that would foster sobriety and help people to get jobs. However, because the government constantly wages war on the people’s right to exist, this unique and inspiring place is no more.
The Promised Land, also known as The Village, was a small camp under multiple layers of highway in a small and underused city park. Multiple homeless camps in Oakland, California are rife with heroin abuse and crime. However, the people who created this one aimed to be different.
The camp’s organizer, Needa Bee, explained to CBS San Francisco that while only 16 people lived there, they were providing services to hundreds of other homeless people a week.
Bee was able to obtain portable toilets, hand washing stations, a hot shower, and even offered up basic medical care and food. According to Bee, the camp had strict rules against drinking and drug use in an effort to help others get sober to get jobs. The homeless members of the camp had even begun cultivating gardens to feed themselves.
But on Thursday, all that amazing progress came to a grinding and crushing halt.
As CBS San Francisco reports, residents were abruptly awakened Thursday morning by dozens of police officers and public works employees who told them to leave with what they could and loaded what was left into garbage trucks. One person was arrested attempting to stop the process.
During the week prior, city inspectors came through and cited the camp on 18 health and safety violations. Even their gardens were considered violations and their entire presence in the park — without a permit — was declared a “public nuisance,” city spokeswoman Karen Boyd said.
“This was a solution and it was viable. … The people of Oakland believed in it,” said Bee. “Now all those folks are going right back onto the streets.”
“I’m disgusted by the mayor and disgusted by the administrator,” she said. “We actually did something that they were unable to do.”
To add insult to destruction, several other homeless camps in the area remained untouched during Thursday’s crackdown — in spite of rampant and widespread drug use and piles of trash.
As SF Gate reports:
Oakland PD, DPW clearing “the Promise Land,” homeless village set up 10 days ago under hwy. 16 slept here under condition they stay sober. pic.twitter.com/bO8fWvfpC9
— Kimberly Veklerov (@KVeklerov) February 2, 2017
Clearing the encampment at 36th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way was a striking change from how city staffers have approached other camps, including a line of tents and waste just outside the park — which they left untouched during Thursday morning’s shutdown — or another camp six blocks away, which Oakland leaders chose for the inaugural “Compassionate Communities” program.
At that encampment, at 35th and Magnolia streets, city crews added portable toilets, trash bins and needle containers, then hosed down the sidewalks and left. With the deployment of counselors and other services, the idea is to get everyone into housing by March 31, then replicate the program at other sites.
This camp was specifically targeted because they were inviting people in to help them.
“There’s a difference between people living in tents, versus setting up an intentional, unsanctioned encampment,” Boyd said. “They were inviting and recruiting people to bring them into a park without the adequate infrastructure.”
Apparently, the large piles of trash, rampant heroin use, and unsanitary conditions at the other camps is considered ‘adequate infrastructure.’
During its brief but profound existence, there was not a single incident at the Village — yet they were still shut down. They even provided their own security at night to protect those who sought sanctuary.
“Before, it was so drug infested, you couldn’t even walk through here late at night,” Majid Ahmed, 44, said as he packed up his belongings at the camp, according to SF Gate. “Since we moved here, there has been zero crime and every one of us has got off drugs.”
But no more.
Daniel Weaver, a resident in “the promised land,” said he has a part-time job but remains homeless. And, now that the Village has been torn down and thrown away, the likelihood of him keeping that job has greatly diminished.
“I need to be able to brush my teeth and take a shower and get to work. If I’m going to get my act together, I need a place,” he said.
A 60-year-old homeless woman, Nancy Mitchell was living on the street at one of the nearby ‘city-sanctioned’ camps with heroin use and trash. However, she explained to SF Gate that she came to the Village one day to get a cup of coffee and a plate of food, and decided to stay. Volunteers at the Village grabbed their dollies and helped move her in.
“It was welcoming,” she said. “I’ve never seen so much love in that park.”