This policy has had a long road in several iterations. Last year, when CM Nikki Fortunato Bas was in the Life Enrichment Committee, she began a process of accountability on homeless policy with the City. Bas asked for policy information, outcomes and finances for the City’s homelessness engagement. With support of several community organizations, Bas also instructed the City Administrator to come back with policies and data, and even required an audit of the finances behind homelessness engagement. When Bas left the Committee early this year, CM Loren Taylor took over the process. Taylor initiated a period of reports and community engagement, beginning with a review and revision of Oakland’s decades old “PATH” plan, which ostensibly is used to guide the City’s homelessness policy.

Through the Committee, Taylor proposed a series of town halls, which had to be held virtually due to Covid restrictions, carried out a survey and then engaged with the City Administrator on the policy. The survey was criticized for its low engagement of homeless residents. During public comment, East Oakland Collective Director Candice Elder noted that the survey’s participants were “mainly homeowners. It did not include the voices of the un-housed community.” Later in the meeting, Taylor argued that proportionally, the “14% of representation in the survey far outweighs the representation of homeless residents in the City.” 

The new EMP policy is the product of Taylor’s efforts, though led and articulated by Dunston who has been in the newly created Homelessness Administrator since Summer—Taylor called this Dunston “teeing-up” the policy. Before Dunston, the City’s former unofficial homelessness coordinator Joe Devries suggested the sensitivity exclusion zones, but he transitioned out of the role in July when the Homelessness Coordinator position was filled by Dunston.

Several speakers noted that the policy is vague about how the City will define high sensitivity areas. “I think its very telling that the map that we’ve seen shows where people cannot be, and there’s not a map that shows where people can be,” said Reisa Jaffe, an Oakland resident.  

Previously, the City had touted a GIS map with layered functions that purportedly showed the exclusion areas. But in recent reports to Council, the City Administrator admitted that the map was all but useless in giving an accurate image of the high sensitivity areas around residences and businesses because its based on zoning, rather than individual parcels. 

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared on Hyphenated Republic, an Oakland news blog by reporter Jamie Omar Yassin.

Jamie Omar Yassin is an independent reporter in Oakland covering city politics, public land, homelessness, and the Police Commission.