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West Oakland Neighbors Shocked By City-Sanctioned Homeless Camp

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- It's referred to as a "sanctioned" homeless encampment. It doesn't involve Tuff Sheds or navigation centers, just unsheltered people pitching their tents in a permitted place, with basic amenities.

Some cities are embracing the concept, but in Oakland, it's creating controversy.

"We don't know who did this, who allowed this. It's disgraceful," said West Oakland resident Daniel Burns, who is used to seeing homeless encampments in his neighborhood. But this one really shocked him: city officials placed a group of unsheltered residents in a permitted location that is right next to the neighborhood soccer field.

"They put in a sanctioned homeless encampment, there was no city meeting, there was nothing," said Burns. "What that means is, 'Hey, come on over here, it's good, you can stay here.' Well that's in front of where kids play and I think this is unacceptable."

Homeless residents we talked to said officials from the city relocated them as a group here from an encampment on the other side of the field.

"The city designated this spot, as you can see the white line and all, for us. The city is paying for all that, they put us here," said Larry Coke, a camp resident. "This is where you can go and nobody is going to mess with you."

Some cities, such as Seattle, are creating sanctioned encampments as one more strategy to stem the rising tide of unsheltered people. San Jose and San Francisco supervisors are also exploring the concept.

But in Oakland, even though this encampment is permitted, Mayor Libby Schaaf says this one is an exception, and it's only temporary. "I have come to a place where I am not supportive of sanctioned encampments," said Schaaf.

She says the city has tried them in the past, but the experiments led to nothing but problems. "All have ended in fires, unhealthy conditions for residents, let alone the surrounding community," said Schaaf. "From my experience we have tried it and it has failed."

The encampment at Raimondi Park is designed to be an emergency temporary fix. "We don't have a permanent place for the encampment yet, so you will see us using interim measures, because we don't have enough beds," said Schaaf.

The city just opened its first safe RV parking site and is opening two new Tuff Shed communities this month. But the mayor admits, it's still not enough. "For every one person we exit, two new people are becoming homeless," said Schaaf.

For Burns, that's still no excuse. "They keep on doing the homeless shuffle," said Burns. He says this location, even for a temporary sanctioned encampment, is just plain wrong. "How many people are they going to allow here, what is the cap? This is next to a sports field where kids play and you are exposing them to hazards and dangers and rodents and needles," said Burns.

Even a few of the camp residents we talked to didn't think this was the best spot for them. "Right next to the soccer field, I know," said Coke, who maintains it's better than nothing.

"If this is the start of them trying to come up with some solution for homeless people, it's a start in the right direction," said Coke. "It's just at the wrong place."

Schaaf is a big proponent of Tuff Sheds for the homeless. She says 55 percent of residents in the city's cabin communities have exited directly to permanent housing.

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