Oakland's new Tuff Sheds at Lake Merritt.
Oakland’s new Tuff Sheds at Lake Merritt. (Alastair Boone)

The city of Oakland opened its third Tuff Shed site at Lake Merritt in early October. The new site, which is located in the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center parking lot, has 20 insulated cabins, approximately 8-by-15 feet each, designed to house two residents for up to six months. Together, they can accommodate 40 residents. As of late October, there are 14 open spaces remaining.

“The reason for the third site is that it seems to be working as a plan to both get people immediately out of tents and into beds into a safer environment,” said Joe DeVries, assistant to the City Administrator.

Homeless residents around Lake Merritt said the city began to close down the camps in the area once the new site opened and started inviting people to move in on October 5.

“There’s been a lot of confusion and lack of clear information coming from both the city and the Tuff Sheds,” said Talya Husbands-Hankin, a homeless advocate. “Some people have already moved in, but there are other people who have signed up on the list and who have not gotten spots and are wanting to go in.”

There are over 65 homeless individuals who currently live around Lake Merritt, and only 40 beds inside the new Tuff Shed camp. As some people move in and find transitional or permanent housing, those still on the waiting list may have a shot at moving in.

According to DeVries, the city’s first Tuff Shed site on 6th and Castro Streets has temporarily housed over 70 people, and at least 55 of them have moved on to transitional or permanent housing. The city plans to open more Tuff Shed camps in the coming months.

“This is the right now plan. We’re going to open more of these, we have to because we have people living in encampments. It’s just dangerous, it’s inhumane, it’s not healthy, it’s not good for the people in the encampments. It’s not good for people in the surrounding community,” said DeVries. In late October, there were 14 spaces remaining in the sheds in the Henry J. Kaiser parking lot that were designated for people camping around the lake.

However, many homeless residents say they do not want to live in a Tuff Shed. “No, I don’t want to move into a Tuff Shed program,” said Nino Parker, a homeless resident who lives near Lake Merritt. “There’s a privacy issue for me. It’s hard to live less than 10 feet from someone that’s across the room with only a cloth partition.”

Lulu Orozco is a writer and documentary film studnt at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.