I must start off by saying I laughed when I heard that Alameda County agreed to lease the City of Oakland use of the Old North County Jail for $1.00 a year. Would the officials who had this idea stay in North County? Exactly how it is that this is an option just because someone else feels like, “well it’s better than where you are now so this is what I have to offer you, take it or leave it”?
All throughout my incarceration, I have never called my cell a home. Moreover, I consider the bars that cage me disrespectful, even to animals. So, I think Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf let down some very vulnerable people when she told the San Francisco Chronicle that a vacant jail is an “obvious” option for a homeless shelter.
The 2019 one-night homeless count found 201 families (612 people), a count similar to the 2017 one-night count of 190 families (601 persons). That means 8 percent of the total counted homeless population is made up of families. The Coalition on Homelessness says the count is actually much higher, pointing out that the school district—using its own definition of homelessness—lists more than 2,000 students as being homeless.
When the problem of homelessness was in its infancy and jails were expanding to greet new “clients” each day, the issue concerning the growing number of unsheltered people on the street was practically invisible. Years later, two wars overseas, and a financial meltdown created The Great Recession.
As the homelessness crisis worsens, cities all over the U.S. are desperately trying to come up with solutions. California, for example, is in a frenzy to build new homeless shelters that will fit thousands of new shelter beds.
Jorge Peña walked his tiny dog, Chiquita, around the inside perimeter of 711 71st Avenue in Oakland, behind the RVs parked neatly facing each other, stopping to say hello to his neighbor sitting in the shade. He is one of the first residents of Oakland’s new, invite-only “safe RV lot” next to Coliseum BART, and he calls it a “godsend.”