Oakland raises $1 million in homeless funds to fix poor results from tiny homes


Months after an investigation by the Bay Area News Group found that Oakland wasn’t helping the majority of the city’s small residents get out of homelessness, the city is rolling out a $1 million federal grant in an effort to fix the problems.

The $1.03 million fund will help the city help people move from tiny homes – small, rudimentary huts designed as temporary shelters – to permanent housing and, hopefully, stay there. For starters, the city will use the additional resources on just one of its seven small residential sites.

The move comes after a four-month, Bay Area-wide investigation by this news organization into the effectiveness of tiny homes as a solution to the homelessness crisis. Residents in the city’s four “communal huts” sites – where residents live in simple, shed-like housing and share portable toilets – were found to move into permanent housing at a rate of just 28%. This is far short of Alameda County’s 50% target. A city audit that came to a similar conclusion also found that 44% of those who move from a cabin to a townhouse end up homeless again.

Those who have been through the hut programs describe waiting for housing that never became available, then finding themselves back on the street when their time – sometimes as little as six months – in the hut was up.

“I think it’s a resource-based issue,” said LaTonda Simmons, who is temporarily replacing the city’s homeless administrator after Daniel Cooper was relieved of office after serving less than a year. “But I know the city has taken this seriously in terms of trying to identify additional resources that would help deliver individuals directly to permanent housing.”

She hopes the new federal funding will help. The money will go towards creating a “rapid resettlement” program in a community hut, which has yet to be chosen. Rapid relocation is a strategy used across the Bay Area — although it has never been implemented in an Oakland cabin — to help homeless residents secure long-term housing. Financing helps people pay moving costs, such as the first and last month’s rent and security deposits, as well as ongoing rent assistance for three to 24 months. It also funds aftercare or case management services that help newly housed people stay stable and ensure they don’t return to the street.

Federal money will also be used to hire staff to run the new program.

While a city spokeswoman said Oakland appreciates the new funding, $1 million in housing support is a “relatively small amount.”

Financing also does not help solve another big problem – the lack of affordable housing. Rent subsidies, which usually pay a percentage of the beneficiary’s rent, do little good if beneficiaries cannot find an apartment where they can be used.

“There are a lot of possibilities there,” Simmons said. “I think the other party has to make sure that, not just in the city of Oakland, but as we work with the county, we are able to identify permanent units that people can walk into and that are sustainably accessible for them. ”

And although Oakland officials received a ceremonial check last month, it’s unclear when the actual funds will be distributed.

Oakland has four community cabin locations that may be eligible for funding, the oldest of which has been in operation since 2018. The city also recently opened a fifth on Wood Street in West Oakland, using $8.3 million in state funding. When at full capacity, this venue will house up to 100 people. It is primarily intended to serve people displaced from a large nearby camp, which the city plans to close soon. A federal judge briefly forced the city to delay the closure after a citywide ransomware attack delayed the opening of the new booths.

Unlike the other cabins that had portable restrooms and didn’t have standing showers or running water, the new Wood Street cabins will have bathrooms with plumbing and showers, Simmons said. This news organization’s report found that when people have access to such amenities, they are more likely to succeed.

Oakland also operates two additional tiny residential sites that use small, rudimentary fiberglass cabins made by a Washington-based company, Pallet.

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