When a deadly virus began spreading throughout Oakland in 2020, many people were terrified it would hit the homeless community hardest. Many unhoused residents were unable to social-distance, living either in crowded tent encampments or homeless shelters where rows of cots were squished together. And when companies started laying off workers in droves, a new fear arose: would the newly unemployed lose their housing and end up among the thousands living on the streets?

While the trauma of the pandemic is incalculable, Oakland has largely avoided these predicted crises. Local governments enacted policies and programs to offer shelter and stability at an unheard-of scale. Hotels were converted into shelters where hundreds of people could sleep in private rooms. Eviction moratorium policies made it illegal for landlords to kick tenants out.

When the crisis ends, will Oakland be able to hang onto these successes? How can we apply the lessons of pandemic housing policy in a reopened Oakland? And despite the positive outcomes of these programs, who did they leave out or harm?

The Oaklandside’s housing and homelessness reporter Natalie Orenstein and filmmaker Vincent Cortez went around Oakland recently, talking to people affected by pandemic housing policy, and those who have the power to help decide what’s next. In this short documentary, you’ll meet Kerry Abbott, the county’s homeless care director, housing advocate James Vann, unhoused community organizer Mavin Carter-Griffin, and landlord Gina Baker.

The video was first streamed on June 16, 2021, as part of The Oaklandside’s one-year anniversary event, Live-ish, a three-day celebration of our newsroom’s first year, featuring community conversations, short documentaries, panel discussions, and musical performances by local artists.

Blue Shield is the presenting sponsor of Live-ish.

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.