Officials with the city of Oakland and the American Red Cross are scrambling to try to make shelter arrangements for 37 people who were displaced by a fire at a homeless camp near Interstate Highway 880 in Oakland early this morning, a city official said.
Joe DeVries, an assistant to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth who works on homeless issues, said the Red Cross typically provides replacement tents for homeless people who lose their tents in fires but he said that might not happen in this case.
DeVries said, “We’re looking into what shelter beds are available” but said there may not be many available.
Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Demond Simmons said about 15 or 16 tents were destroyed in the blaze in the 2200 block of East 12th Street that was reported at 2:41 a.m. and was contained shortly after 4 a.m.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to Simmons.
Although no one was injured by the blaze, firefighters who responded to it found a dead body in a part of the homeless camp that didn’t burn, Simmons said.
That person apparently had been dead for several days and the Oakland Police Department is now investigating that matter, he said.
DeVries estimated that about 60 to 80 people live at the homeless camp, which is known as “The Village.”
He said even before the fire on Sept. 11, city officials have been working with the camp’s organizers to find a new location because the site needs to be cleared out in November to make way for a major retrofitting project on the 23rd Avenue bridge, which passes over the encampment and feeds onto Highway 880.
However, DeVries said the city has had “challenges” in finding a new location for the people who live at “The Village” site.
Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said in a statement that the fire “calls us to do more to protect everyone in our community and speaks to the importance of finding solutions to our homelessness crisis.”
Kaplan said that at 4 p.m. on Sept. 11, the council’s Life Enrichment Committee will discuss staff’s follow-up report on her resolution calling for expanded housing options across the city to address homelessness as well as to provide what she described as “dignity, privacy, and disease control.”
Kaplan said, “I am also calling on all responders to provide displaced residents with no less services than they would provide to housed people displaced by a fire.”
She said, “We must come together to ensure that our residents are safe and protected and to minimize harm and suffering in our community.”
By Jeff Shuttleworth