Homelessness and the criminalization of landless bodies are built into the very fabric of the United States. 

The very first peoples to become unhoused, illegal, and criminal in the Americas were the Indigenous Peoples when the Europeans came to colonize and steal their Ancestral lands. This ideology and practice continued on stolen Africans, Black Natives, and their descendants through Jim Crow laws. Throughout the decades, the creation of homeless/criminalized populations has prevailed through policies and practices. We are currently seeing another iteration of that: gentrification. The “natives” of different urban cities become homeless so that settler colonialism can manifest through gentrification. 

The policy work needed to solve this national housing crisis is a necessary piece of a larger puzzle. But if we do not address the systemic landlessness of Indigenous and Black folks, and work from there, we are not going to see the paradigm shift needed to truly solve homelessness. We urgently need to start creating policies that protect housing as a human right, rather than an opportunity for hoarding profits and resources. 

With all the violence happening in Oakland, one of the biggest pushes for us right now is for the city to understand that housing is violence and crime prevention. If you actually house people, you can prevent crime, because they are no longer living in survival mode. 

Yet, there are zero units of deeply affordable permanent housing included in the city’s blueprint to end homelessness. The plans to increase temporary shelter beds with no permanent housing means that thousands of people are being exited back into the streets when their temporary housing stays end. 

Many of these folks have died in the streets they were returned to. The city’s homeless interventions start from a place that believes encampment evictions are inevitable, and frames people trying to survive as a crime. Oakland’s encampment interventions include a massive police presence which automatically criminalizes the target population. A majority of those living on the streets have deep trauma with police and are too triggered to fight back; or they are on parole or probation, and have been stripped of the right to fight back. 

Most of the city’s multimillion dollar shelter interventions are run like prisons and their clients are treated as prisoners with contempt, judgment, abuse, and neglect by the staff. There are curfews, nobody has a key to their own unit, and there’s often no water, electricity, or heat. In this controlled environment, a sense of community is impossible. 

The biggest obstacle to solving this manufactured lack of affordable housing and ending homelessness in Oakland is our local government. For 24 years, we have had a government that is literally married to the agenda of gentrification. There is a lack of political will amongst our local politicians, many of whom have made campaign promises that were forgotten; who have talked a big game to the media and the public to cover the fact that billions of dollars to end homelessness are being mismanaged and misused. 

In October 2018, The Village released a policy research report with Just Cities and The East Oakland Collective laying out all the existing public land, along with different sources of funding that currently exist. We found that within six months, Oakland could house 4,000 of its unhoused residents using the shelter crisis ordinance and building non-traditional housing that could pop up quickly so it was to scale, like tiny house villages. We provided a list of the empty public lands that were either slated for affordable housing or multi-use and had been sitting vacant for years. Not only did the city ignore the report, but they quickly sold most of the public parcels on the list to private developers to build housing for middle class residents or commuter parking lots. 

We need to publicly acknowledge gentrification as exploitative, oppressive, racist, classist, and violent. We need a moratorium on gentrification, and elected officials need to embrace a new development model that meets the needs of the thousands of Oakland residents who can no longer afford housing and are being pushed into desperation and survival mode. As long as government officials are ideologically and politically bound to the agenda of building for the gentry, they will not build for the working class or poor. 

Planning departments, city councils, and mayors need to assemble a task force that includes unhoused and housed residents, homeless advocates, tenant rights advocates, violence prevention advocates, non-profit developers, community land trusts, and real estate cooperatives to create an actual solution with immediate, mid, and long-term goals. We need policymakers and city planners who are guided by a moral compass that dictates housing as a human right, rather than housing as a commodity for the rich. Until this happens, business will continue as usual. 

Anita de Asis Miralle, also known as Needa Bee, is an unhoused mother, educator, mentor, writer, poet, activist, organizer, and trouble maker, with a passion for justice and love for the masses.