The ever-increasing sight of homeless encampments in Oakland and the proper solutions for alleviating or solving the issue clashed Thursday night as a number of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s mayoral challengers, meeting for the first time this election year at a candidate forum, unleashed a fury of criticism for her handling of the homeless problem in Oakland, reserving additional anger for her administration’s use of Tuff Sheds as a short-term housing solution.
“I am just as furious and outraged about the homelessness problem as anybody else that is here,” said Schaaf amid loud boos and hissing. “Rip on the Tuff Shed program all you want, but every person that I have talked to–and I have talked to all of them–appreciate that they are not on the streets.”
Schaaf instituted the use of the pre-fabricated enclosures intended for a variety of uses, including a DIY version of a tiny house, but primarily used for storage. The administration, however, has chosen to use the Tuff Shed brand name to promote the program, evoking the perception the city is placing its homeless in a shed with other assorted non-essential belongings.
“Tuff Sheds are getting people off of the sidewalks and into safety and services,” Schaaf told Alameda County Democratic Party members, who were the main hosts of the candidate forum held Thursday night at the Elihu Harris State Building in downtown Oakland.
“They were experimental. They are working and we are going to be doing more of them because they are the fastest, most humanitarian, and dignified thing that we can do. It is only temporary. It is a stop-gap and, believe me, homelessness has gone up in every other city on the west coast and most of America.” The homelessness problem requires regional partners to supplement the city’s own limited resources, she added.
The Tuff Shed issue, though, raised the temperature of an already contentious hour-long debate Thursday evening with several candidates questioning Schaaf’s humanity for not dealing with the crisis more quickly and with more compassion.
“It is not about resources, it is about will,” Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks said in a comment directed at Schaaf. “I’m not worried about your ability to lead. I’m worried about your moral compass.”
Brooks said she had visited homeless encampments within days of Schaaf. “Both of us heard babies crying inside of those camps. Both of us saw rats the size of dogs. That both of us heard stories of rats eating people alive. That both of us saw people with sores on their skin and puss escaping out. That both of us saw some of the most inhumane conditions that probably either of us have ever seen or imagined,” said Brooks.
“Here’s where we differ: Should I be mayor, there is no way that I could have left those encampments with the crisis of consciousness that that created in me and not use every single resource at my fingertips to move those people off the streets and into a shelter right away,” said Brooks. She proposed that tiny homes could be built in a matter of weeks on public lands. Furthermore, Brooks would unlock city-owned warehouses and partition them for short-term shelter.
Oakland civil rights attorney Pamela Price also advocated for using vacant warehouses as a more humane and temporary solution and labeled the city’s homeless problem a “crisis like we have never seen before.” Price likened the homeless situation to the aftermath of a natural disaster that requires aid for food, social services and shelter. “I’m the Red Cross, y’all,” proclaimed Price.
Saied Karamooz, the candidate who loaned his campaign a whopping $181,000 in funding earlier this year, and along with Brooks and Price are expected to be the sharp point of the entire mayoral field’s criticism of Schaaf’s re-election campaign, also took umbrage with the mayor’s Tuff Shed program, calling it unacceptable. “If a Tuff Shed is not good enough for my family to live in, it’s not good enough for my brothers and sisters to live in.” Karamooz added that he would open up all public restroom facilities at night and spend one night a week in a homeless encampment until the crisis is under control in Oakland.
Other candidates at the forum, including Cedric Troupe and Nancy Sidebotham also expressed outrage at the city’s homeless problem. Thursday’s forum included only candidates registered as Democrats. The fall mayoral features nine candidate hoping to unseat Schaaf, who was first elected in 2014. They include Peter Liu, Ken Houston, Jesse A.J. Smith, and Tatmon Marchon.