OAKLAND—A small city park in Oakland that has been serving as a homeless encampment since January 21 was shut down on Thursday, February 2 by Oakland police officers and public works employees.
The camp picked up the names “The Village” and “The Promised Land,” and took over an area near Grove Shafter Park and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The aim behind “Promise Land” was meant to be different from other homeless encampments. A makeshift shower, portable toilet with a handwashing station, kitchen, and medical supplies were all part of the setup. Defenders of the encampment said that “Promise Land” became an organized, rules-based alternative to living on the sidewalk. No drugs, alcohol or violence was tolerated. Young volunteers patrolled the park through the night as self-proclaimed security guards. Donations of food by others were given and small shelters were constructed out of wooden pallets.
“This was a solution and it was viable,” said fellow Promise Land builder Needa Bee. “Now all those folks are going right back onto the streets.”
City officials say the encampment violated 18 laws and fire codes. On Friday, February 3, Karen Boyd, a city spokeswoman listed violations that included obstructing free passage through a public park, using propane tanks and accumulating combustible waste, as reasons for the closure. According to reports, dozens of neighbors in the surrounding area had complained too.
“There’s a difference between people living in tents, versus setting up an intentional, unsanctioned encampment,” Boyd said. “They were inviting and recruiting people to bring them into a park without the adequate infrastructure.”
The site was given a 72-hour notice to vacate on January 30.
“We are looking at various ways to address the homeless crisis,” Boyd said.
Bee listed comparisons between the “Promise Land” and a sanctioned homeless encampment, an experiment by the city at 35th and Magnolia Streets where there are multiple reports of heroin use.
Organizers and inhabitants of the “Promise Land” claimed that, after years of battling Oakland’s housing crisis and struggling to get resources from the city, they wanted to take matters into their own hands.
After settling into the city park area, inhabitants set up an information booth and a donations table that greeted anyone who entered the park. Inhabitants were even able to go live on social media. Once receiving the notice to vacate, a group of supporters spoke in front of City Council members Tuesday night, imploring them to let the Promise Land operate on its own rules.
Supporters of the Promise Land spoke extensively during the public comment periods at the City Council meeting hoping to find some support for keeping the camp open but did not seem to be successful.