Firsts and wins by the residents of the Wood Street Commons - new strategies for ending homelessness
1. We were the first group of "homeless" that we knew of to have weekly meetings, develop a consensus process whereby we would develop talking points, have those talking points vetted and considered by the residents, and then unanimously adopting those talking points that had buy-in from everybody, i.e. the "All or none" process.
2. We were the first group of "homeless" to draft a formal letter that included unanimous demands of the group (our first seven talking points and our first demand - two dumpsters) and deliver it to city representatives and our city councilperson.
3. On the basis of our being self-organized to this extent, and on the basis of our letter of demands, our city councilmember, Carroll Fife, came to meet with us at our encampment. This led to subsequent meetings of city officials coming to us, with attendees that included Lara Tannenbaum of human services, Latonda Simmons, assistant city administrator, Frank Foster of Department of Public Works, Sara LeRock of Waste Management, Inc., and Cheryl Chambers of Caltrans.
4. We were the first encampment to define ourselves as a commons.
5. Our first win with the city was two-in-one. In our discussions with the Department of Public Works to try to get the two dumpsters, he offered us 22 rolling trash cans, with weekly servicing, which was enough to meet the needs of all the residents, and help us turn a corner on the overwhelming trash problems from illegal dumping and some residents' hoarding issues.
The other side of this was the first of having a City representative refer to us as "residents", which is how Frank Foster referred to us in our conferences with him.
6. Our second win with the city was to get a 20 yard dumpster for two days from Sara LeRock of Waste Management, because of an allotment that came through Carroll Fife's office.
7. Another first was having 8 of our residents show up for the first townhall meeting at a homeless encampment, at the Cob on Wood village on April 18, 2021. (The Cob on Wood village is its own first in the history of homeless encampments.)
8. The Wood Street Commons is the first encampment to feature the soft dome and stretch fabric canopies.
9. The Wood Street Commons developed its own positive slogans, such as "All or None" and "Infrastructure-in-place" and "Cooperative Community by Design", and "We gonna win this place" and "Stewards of the Land", and "Always Home".
10. The Wood Street Commons was the first encampment to develop the strategy of "humanization", which generally means reversing the standard perceptions of homeless people as hated, disposable untouchables to people who were being referred to as "cleaner" and "residents" by officials from the city.
Humanization also carried the specific meaning of an arc of growth from "homeless" to "resident" to "steward of the land", and on the other side, an arc of growth for the people in high places from "genocidal tyrant" to "benign landlord" to "steward of the land".
11. We were the first encampment to intentionally apply the idea of creating a positive image of and attractive results for homeless people, through such activities as cleaning the Wood Street frontage and the interior areas of the commons in cooperation with large numbers of people from the housed community, and the use of signage, hypergraphics, and art.
12. We made extensive use of high rhetoric and humor in our open letters to key city and state officials.
13. We were the first encampment to lead a large scale clean up project side-by-side with the housed community, in the areas of the south side, with no significant injuries or altercations.
14. We were the first encampment to have a weekly open mic, featuring resident musicians on two music stages (at 1707 and Cob on Wood).
15. We were one of the first encampments to use active social engagement ("cordiality") and positive diplomacy, with a City Council member (Carroll Fife), and city administrators, and Department of Public works, the police, Caltrans, and Waste Mgt. corp.
16. We were one of the first encampments to include such large areas of living soil, plants and nature.
17. We were the first encampment to have such extensive contact with the housed community. Most encampments only gain contact on a consistent basis with the food charities that deliver free food, and ocassional services. But we also developed stronger relationships with the housed community through the resident led clean-up events, social gatherings and live music/open mics, planning meetings, protest rallies and throwing parties.
18. We were the first encampment to execute a major beautification plan, which has resulted in cleaner air, a beautified frontage, a major cob village development, hyper graphics and art.
19. We are probably the encampment with the largest amount of positive press.
20. Our positive contributions also including how many people we have gotten off the streets and the curbs, and onto open land where there is enough space to develop common areas for meetings, live music and live/work situations.
21. Our positive image campaign was also enhanced by a reduction in arson fires from May onward, in part due to our removal of flammable items from under or around the freeway structures.
22. Our positive image was also enhanced by the number of talented musicians and performers that appeared at the Cob on Wood stage, who had come from the ranks of the residents.
23. A win - we developed a style of protest rally which brings together theater, art, spirituality and activism, and which resulted in a strategic breakthrough at the very first one. At our first protest, we were able to break into the Caltrans/City of Oakland/Union Pacific Railroad meeting via zoom, in which they were trying to plan our eviction. Instead, one of the meeting's attendees said, "Let's hear them out" (The voice, we later discovered, of City Administrator Latonda Simmons), which enabled LeaJay to read aloud our entire platform of grievances and demands, through the loud speaker.. And this resulted in us gaining precious extra months to prepare for our theatrical eviction defense.
24. A win - brokering a peace between two leaders from the Wood Street Commons and Cob on Wood respectively (Lamonte and Miguel), through their joint construction of a cob bench on the Wood street frontage.
25. A win - the residents had their largest platform to date for expressing their positive vision of creating a tiny home ecovillage with infrastructure-in-place, held within a commons trust administered by the residents, during their July 15th meeting with four City representatives. Residents had their best ensemble public performance to date.
26. Wood Street Commons residents were the first encampment to throw large parties for the public, which included live music, lots of cooked food, and shade structures, on July 24, 2021, and on August 28, 2021.
27. A win - getting the message in writing from Latonda Simmons, that the city would delay any attempts at closure until at least September. And then another delay was won until October.
28. A first - Residents are building and fundraising for the most elaborate and theatrical eviction defense in the history of encampments.
29. The Wood Street Commons was one of the encampments involved in founding the first statewide consortium of encampments, to build the solidarity, mutual aid and collective strength needed to match the power of a statewide agency like Caltrans, as well as to be able to put a stop to the statewide policy of closing all encampments. It also resulted in encampments doing mutual aid for each other when experiencing the crisis of eviction.
30. Residents have their first meeting with a statewide level executive at Caltrans, Jeannie Ward Waller, on October 19, 2021. We shared our general grievance against violent evictions of residents, our interest in the process of leasing land from Caltrans for residential use, and reminded Csltrans that they can never be just a transportation agency. Their current position as the State's largest landowner/hoarder forces them to be a social services industry on behalf of the many residents living on their/our land.
31. For the first time a major Caltrans operation resulted in no forcible evictions - the massive positioning of cement barriers and chain link fence from 18th street allthe way to Cob on Wood resulted in no forcible evictions - witnesses, residents and activists present on the In sufficient numbers any time Caltrans threatened or intimidated residents to encourage residents to stand their ground and hold Caltrans under the spotlight. Caltrans started doing good by removing at least 150 abandoned vehicles, and cleaning one of the worst areas at the Grand Ave entrance.
32. For the first time, a City of Oakland encampment closure was effectively aborted, after the operation was underway. On November 8th 2021, LaMonte and Theo and Ann-Marie and a host of advocates were able to interact with LaTonda Simmons on behalf of about 20 Wood Street curbside residents and prevent any violent evictions or property destruction.
33. Wood Street Commons achieves historic reversal of the all-bad-news homelessness narrative, and achieve their largest worldwide exposure through a YouTube video by Nick Johnson that has garnered over 1.3 million views so far.