During the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, unhoused people in some Bay Area cities experienced a brief pause in encampment sweeps. As COVID cases spiked, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told city officials to leave encampments alone. “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are,” the CDC instructed. “Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
In response, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution in March 2020 saying they would pause camp encampment evictions— unless residents were offered private housing units or shelter beds. Though there were a couple of exceptions, sweeps largely came to a halt for the first year of the pandemic.
However, as COVID cases in Alameda County dropped, Oakland began to close encampments again. In fact, data recently analyzed by The Oaklandside shows that encampment evictions are happening more frequently than they were before the pandemic. There were nine encampment closures in March 2020—the last month that sweeps were conducted before the citywide lockdown. In 2021, there were three scheduled closures in March, three in April, and then the number skyrocketed to 12. Ever since, the number of planned closures each month has consistently ranged between six and 11.
Every two weeks, the city posts a public schedule of its encampment intervention plans online. The Oaklandside reviewed about two years of these schedules—from January 2020 to November 2021—to analyze how often sweeps are happening now that they have resumed.
This data shows that the City of Oakland closed at least 98 encampments during the two years The Oaklandside examined. There were also 15 “partial closures” during the studied timeframe, during which residents had to move or consolidate their community. Advocates often say that some “partial closures” are tantamount to closures, because residents lose important belongings or are otherwise radically de-stabilized.
“No matter what number of sweeps the city carries out, each one has an enormous impact on the unhoused residents being forced to relocate,” Talya Husbands-Hankin—founder of the grassroots advocacy group Love and Justice in the Streets— told The Oaklandside.
“For people who are making their shelter out of literally whatever they can find—surviving without access to water, sanitation, and basic human rights—to be faced with the threat of police and the Department of Public Works pushing you out of your only spot in the world is deeply harmful.”
Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit.