HDV residents and volunteers pose for a photo.
HDV residents and volunteers. (Courtesy of Needa Bee)
After being evicted from the home that they built, the HDV community shares their reflections with Street Spirit

On Thursday December 6, without warning, the city administration violently evicted the 13 residents of the Housing and Dignity Village (HDV), a service hub at Elmhurst Avenue and Edes Avenue in deep East Oakland. Over 20 Oakland Police officers were present to lead residents away in handcuffs, as Public Works employees worked overtime to destroy everything on site. On Thursday, the city led us to believe that they are liars, that we cannot trust a word they say, that they have absolutely no problem sanctioning violence against unhoused Black and Brown families.

Thursday’s violent eviction of HDV followed a blocked eviction on December 5. For four hours, residents refused to move because in truth there was no adequate housing available for us. Folks from all over Oakland stood between us and the police. The people of Oakland made it clear that they did not support this eviction, and their presence prevented police and members of the Department of Public Works from entering. Candice Elder of the East Oakland Collective and Margaretta Lin of the Dellums Institute for Social Justice negotiated an alternative to eviction. After four hours in the rain, in front of a crowd of dozens, City representatives, member of Councilmember Larry Reid’s office, and the Department of Human Services told HDV residents, advocates, lawyers and brookfield neighbors that HDV residents would not be evicted until all the residents, advocates, and a legal team could sit down to a roundtable discussion with the city about a viable solution.

The City of Oakland’s statement to the press, released shortly after officials left HDV on Wednesday claims that officials never agreed to pause evictions; that they did not agree to a roundtable meeting; that 15 residents were offered housing, and all residents accepted; and that the City would not throw away belongings. In reality, only 13 people lived at HDV, and the City’s incorrect number reflects the level of effort they put in to actually do what they told the federal judge they would do. In truth, seven residents were not offered adequate housing. The remaining six were offered housing only after City officials and staff scrambled during that 4 hour negotiation period to “override” the shelter system and remove other unsheltered brothers and sister from waiting lists and shelter beds to accommodate HDV residents. This was told to our legal team and our advocates.

The bonds we have created are like the frame and rafters of a home. 

24 hours after agreeing to sit at a roundtable with us, city employees swarmed HDV in a surprise raid. The agreed-upon meeting never happened. None of us were offered shelter, our belongings were tossed and broken.

At the time of the eviction, most residents were off-site at work or handling business, the children were at school. During the eviction our children were in limbo, uncertain of what was going to happen and where they would go that night or the next. As for the four residents on site who were ambushed: One resident was working on a visual arts piece for the City of Berkeley Arts Commission, one resident was getting dressed to go to work, one resident was fixing the village generator station, one resident was resting. We were not allowed to pack. We were not given time to pack. Coverage by independent journalists, corporate media and social media streams showed that residents’ belongings were trashed.

Preston Walker sits outside his tent.
Preston Walker, otherwise known as “Pastor Preston”, sitting outside his tent. (Courtesy of Needa Bee)

To this day none of us have received phone calls from the administration, or human services to check on our status. They do not know where we are and they have no indication of the consequences of their lies and violent eviction on our safety and stability. We and all other unsheltered Oaklanders are not their concern—as long as we are out of sight they are happy. As long as we are not doing for ourselves and the neighborhoods they neglect, they are happy.

Yesterday one of us called a shelter we were told would provide us with housing. When the mama identified herself as a member of the HDV, she was informed that the shelter worker is not allowed to talk about anything related to HDV and hung up on her. She and her children remain on the streets, as do the rest of us. 

We have asked several times why are we being evicted. Why does the city insist we are criminals and our attempts to assert our need and right for sanctuary are illegal? We are clean and sober, we are highly organized, we are the only encampment explicitly serving women and their families. We are the only encampment providing services and resources to our housed and unhoused neighbors. Why us? Our questions were met with silence. The other encampments on public land are left alone at best, at worse they are neglected—even when they are in deep crisis, even when they are riddled with criminal behavior and violence. So why us?

We are certain it is because when we speak we are not only speaking for ourselves but for the at least 9,000 other unsheltered brothers and sisters in oakland. We were evicted in an attempt to silence us. We are also certain we were evicted as punishment for attempting to provide ourselves with sanctuary.

We hope that the Oakland City Council will take the higher moral ground and make decisions based on justice, integrity, equity, compassion and truth. We hope your fear of damaging your political careers will not deafen you to the moral outrage that the violent eviction and destruction of our home has sparked across the Bay Area.

A banner hangs from a fence. It reads "Resist displacement protect dignity #ungovernable #homes4all #feedthepeople"
A banner on the gate around Housing and Dignity Village. (Alastair Boone)

We demand that the Mayor Libby Schaaf, as well as city officials and staff who broke their promise to us be held accountable for lying to us and the public. 

We demand that the city cease all evictions and instead upgrade encampments. We believe California has more than enough wealth—much of it stolen from the Black, Indigenous, and Brown ancestors of people currently experiencing homelessness—to improve the quality of life of unhoused residents until permanent housing is available. We demand that special attention is paid to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing report and recommendations.

We demand a new parcel of land for Housing and Dignity Village to rebuild our Home. The trauma that the mayor and her administration have caused our children is undeniable and unforgivable. The disruption caused in our lives for no good reason is unconscionable. The use of workers to destroy our belongings and violate our human right to assert our right to housing when the city has failed to do so is criminal. 

How dare we seek shelter and safety from the streets. Who the fuck do we think we are to think we deserve basic human needs and rights? We are human beings, some of Oakland’s most vulnerable, but also most resilient.

The Day After the Eviction—Response from Needa Bee, resident of Housing and Dignity Village and Program Director at the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute 

Yesterday we figured out where our important belongings were. We regrouped. Rested. Worked on a statement in response to the traumatic eviction and lying devils. Enjoyed Life. Brushed the rubble from our shoulders and laughed at the devils.

Where are we? Two of us are crashing at temporary spots. One of us is in a basement. One of us is in a tent. The rest of us are living in vehicles on the street. But I bet if you asked the city and staff who lied about giving us shelter and lied about not destroying our property they couldn’t tell you where we are or how we are doing. Cuz there has been no followup to our whereabouts and safety since they destroyed everything and kicked us literally to the curb. But they would probably lie about that too. 

For now, our home base is the street outside of the gates where the Housing and Dignity Village was. We are a community, a family, a unit. The bonds we have created are like the frame and rafters of a home. They cant crush and destroy that.

Old tires are used as planters to form a community garden.
The HDV community garden. (Courtesy of Needa Bee)

Last night a reporter was looking for a sob story. He asked me “how is everyone doing”. I said “we are strong and resilient”. He didn’t like my answer. I didn’t give him tears. The lying devils probably don’t like that either.

The first time the city bulldozed the promise land village in West Oakland in 2017, they only made us stronger. They awoke a movement. Clearly the devils don’t learn from their mistakes.

We are already regrouping. We are already multiplying. We will be coming back. From 100 different angles. 

There are at least 14,000 unhoused in the City of Oakland. And we have support from our housed neighbors all the way to the federal government. 

We ain’t done. We ain’t dismantled. We ain’t silenced. We ain’t stopping. 

Response from Ayat Jalal, resident of Housing and Dignity Village 

In looking through documentaries, old news footage, our lives, and literature that has compiled over the years of constant fighting against oppressive laws, there is a central core. The cry for human rights has been the strength of the thread which has placed us shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart with every nation and race. 

Our differences have not kept us from truth, politics have. Or differences have yet to keep us from coming to the aid of a child, a mother, or an elder in need, it has been our fear. Or allowance of an imposed ideal of who we are to one another is to blame. The police who come between us and our right to protest against an oppressive government (who are paid with our tax dollars) are to blame. 

So too are we, each and every one of us who watch on TV as our fellow brothers and sisters are beaten, arrested, and forced to give up fighting for our children’s future for a lack of support. 

Even those on the front lines campaigning for the removal of unjust laws and treatment, both on the streets and in the courts, are somewhat to blame. Those who took an oath to uphold the constitution and protect our civil liberties dishonor that oath.

A red tent with the word "medic" on the top sits in the encampment.
The HDV medic tent. (Courtesy of Needa Bee)

We have stood, sang, bled and cried together. But then what becomes of love when we are away from the clouds of tear-gas, the walls of cops, and their mountains of oppressive tactics used against us? We resume the same societal positioning we refused, or stepped out of in solidarity with one another, like we have fulfilled some duty. We adorn the programmed existence we were fed. We sever from the core of humanity, our one collective identity and strength. 

When we revert to the clawing of animals rather than retain the nobility of person, we forget the solidarity we experienced in protest against a common threat. A threat to the very core of who we are, humans. And yet this threat remains even when we are not battling in the streets marching and protesting, in the courts or at a city council meeting nearest to you. 

I realize, every time myself and others have developed homesteading encampments during this housing crisis, we are attacked by the city and the police, while the drug-filled camps are left alone. Many times I have stood in front of cops and explained to them how they basterdize their oath and democracy by criminalizing homelessness, trashing our camps, kitchens, donation areas along with supplies we give out to other people on the street. 

However, in the past years something has been surfacing. I now accept that the true frontline in the war for humanity is a space between us when we are face to face with each other. The war for humanity starts with how we feel about ourselves and each other. The true battle tends to be against the societal program; of trusting no one, only money matters, go for self, just do you, or the government is working hard to straighten things out. NO they are not, YES it’s on us.

Until we can put our human connection first in everything we do, just as we do when we protest, celebrate a championship or call for the resignation of a government official, any real change will be a hard process. 

The police will continue to take the side of unjust mindless politicians. The police will constantly ignore their oath to uphold the constitution and stand for us and not an oppressive government. The battle will continue with no end in sight to the root problems we find ourselves facing amongst ourselves, until we understand we citizens keep this society going by choice. We must remember a true revolution starts with individuals adopting or drafting a way of providing the basics for life’s continuity, not waring. To provide food shelter and clothing for one another. To correct imbalance in the way womb-men, mothers and children are treated. Revolution demands these things, and that men be for one another, for the health, well-being and continuation of the species towards peace, love and harmony for our families.

It is our very human existence which we have to reclaim.

This is what has been taken from us that we must regain at the cost of all. Not a false belief in this system, that’s not a great loss, just a huge realization for some. It is our very human existence which we have to reclaim, this is what we have had hijacked from us. Our very purpose for existing and parameters of being, is herded by an economic system that has become an all out dog fight to develop consumers and mindless voters. Who says this is the only way a society can be? I say no again. 

This is a system set up for it’s own continuation. This society is not set up for the balancing, enrichment, nor awareness of our existence in relation to who we are as individual cultures, or of being the only of our species on the planet. Society does not exist or have direction nor relation to our being human. We are communal and gain strength and comfort in community. So why are we made too cry, ask, demand our even fight for our basic needs as a species? Food, shelter, and clothing are so basic and central to our existence, before anything else. How is this government, society, or its laws humane? In failing to provide our allow such to be gathered and/or given, our society is a failure to our very existence. 

We have all witnessed the deterioration of a government’s want or desire to care for its citizens. At this point in my life I chose to convey to you my humanity and call to yours, for the benefit of all our children’s-children’s-children’s futures. I wrote these lines in honor of our present lives in which we seem to only partially be conscious. I wrote these lines for The Village, which is a group that is successfully developing systems of living in the face of this housing situation which has created the displacement of people all over this nation. The Village and First They Came For The Homeless are providing a cure for the dis-ease that this economy has caused to our humanity. We need people to wake up, plug in, and hold ourselves, police, and government officials accountable and responsible for our collective humanity, before all else. 

May we witness the peace experienced by others, through our thoughts and actions. 

All things fatal and in good standing. Uhuru! 

Response from Candice Elder, Founder and Executive Director of the East Oakland Collective 

The City of Oakland is running with the narrative that the 13 residents of Housing and Dignity Village (“HDV) refused shelter, so they deserved eviction. Yes they did refuse the offer of temporary shelter beds. The 13 residents of HDV united together to ensure that all 13 would be offered shelter before anyone was evicted, and more importantly, refused shelter beds because the city was pushing other unhoused people down the list for shelter beds to accommodate HDV residents. 

Candice Ender and a group of volunteers from East Oakland Collective take a break from helping to build HDV to smile for a photo.
Candice Elder (second from the right) with volunteers from the East Oakland collective helping to build HDV. (Courtesy of Needa Bee)

Shelter beds would have been more temporary than the Housing and Dignity Village these folks were evicted from. Some of the residents called shelter beds a “downgrade” to the clean, sober and intentional community where they were safe. HDV was their preferred temporary home, and it was more like a home. As of the day of the first eviction attempt on December 5, the City of Oakland was still scrambling to find beds for some of the residents that had pets and minors. Also, some of the shelter beds were offered outside of Oakland, and that would not have worked for most of the residents. 

The City of Oakland is ignoring the recommendations of the UN to upgrade informal settlements and stop evictions until adequate housing is provided. 

I believe the city also evicted this community faster than any other because a large piece of city owned property was reclaimed by the people, for the people. We need to have a public lands policy in place that not only includes deeply affordable housing, but also allows the use of public land to temporarily house the unhoused until there is more permanent solutions. 

I am so proud of the residents of HDV. They continue to be examples of resilience and resistance. 

#tellthetruthOakland #homesforall #upgradenotevict 

Needa Bee, Kaleeo Alcatar, and Jodii Everett Le’Grande were residents of Housing and Dignity Village.