The city of Oakland ordered several dozen homeless residents to vacate their camp sites around the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center today. A large crew of public works employees were ordered to dispose of tents, blankets, luggage, and other possessions. At least ten Oakland police officers were on scene also.
Pastor Preston Walker has lived in a tent under a buckeye tree near the Kaiser building for several months. He shared the spot with several other men. Their campsite is decorated with a flag of the United States, the words “no justice, no peace” written on it. An Oakland Athletics Baseball Club pennant hangs next to a sign reading “Occupy the Hood.”
Scrawled on the sign is a date; “January 28, 2012,” the day hundreds of Oaklanders attempted to take over the Kaiser building as a “community center.” Oakland’s mayor and city council authorized the police to use all means necessary to repel the march. Oakland police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and threw stun grenades at the protesters. The building has sit empty since then.
“People are just gonna come right back here cause where are they going to go?,” said Walker. “Otherwise they’ll just squat somewhere else.”
Seven Oakland police officers chatted among themselves nearby, watching ducks and geese and a stray rooster pecking at the grass. The officers looked bored.
“I don’t think they want to be doing this, out here when there’s better things they should be doing,” said Walker.
On the other side of the building Gavin Ames is trying to figure out how to move his belongings before the city’s workers throw them away.
“I used to be a cashier at a Chevron station. I was living paycheck to paycheck,” said Ames. “Then this happened,” he said, pointing to the cast on his leg and foot.
“I fell in a hole in the street on Jackson, right here, downtown Oakland, broke my leg.”
Ames said he finds it ironic the city of Oakland’s public works employees are being told to remove him and other homeless residents. “They should be fixing the streets.”
Joe Devries, a neighborhood services supervisor with the city of Oakland, said the city had reached out to those camped around the Kaiser building offering services since September. “This has been a long slow process, but we made it abundantly clear that people could not be camping here.”
Devries mentioned also that last week the building was broken into and copper was stolen. It’s not clear how that related to the homeless persons camped out nearby. Several of the homeless men called it just another excuse to remove them.
“People want to use this space as a park. The city has invested millions around the Lake here,” said Devries. “This is an area want to keep making beautiful.”