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Daniel Cooper, a public health professional from North Carolina, has been appointed Oakland’s homelessness administrator.
The high-profile job of homelessness administrator was created in 2020 to shape and guide the city’s homelessness policy and oversee staff working to address encampments, including moving residents into housing and closing camps.
Oakland City Administrator Ed Reiskin announced Cooper’s appointment Thursday afternoon, one year after the former and first-ever homelessness administrator, Daryel Dunston, abruptly left the position after less than a year on the job.
LaTonda Simmons, assistant city administrator, has temporarily filled the role since then. In January, Simmons told The Oaklandside the city was “still searching” for the right person.
“Daniel is a welcome addition to Oakland’s team,” said Reiskin in a press release. “The breadth and depth of his leadership experience managing homelessness programs and interventions, background in public policy, and seasoned public health expertise in addressing systemic inequities will advance our work in tackling the single largest crisis facing Oakland today.”
Cooper is currently a division director for Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte—a city about twice the size of Oakland—is located. He leads policy and planning initiatives for the county, often focusing on homelessness. Cooper oversaw supportive housing and housing voucher programs encompassing around 500 housing units, according to Oakland’s press release.
Previously, Cooper worked for the Maryland Department of Health, where he advised local governments on prevention policies and data collection around opioid overdoses. Cooper received his Master of Public Health from Nova Southeastern University in 2017, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“Oakland is a beautiful city with a rich cultural history and vibrant community,” Cooper said in the press release. “From a public health perspective, we know that where we live determines how long we live. The magnitude of the homelessness crisis in Oakland drew me here, inspired by the opportunity to make a positive impact and advance such important work.”
At last estimate in 2019, there were more than 4,000 people living without permanent housing in Oakland. A disproportionate number are Black. Updated homelessness numbers will be released this summer, and the population is widely expected to have increased. During the pandemic, the city and county have opened several new transitional housing programs and moved hundreds of people into stable housing, but there are still thousands living outdoors and in vehicles, facing severe health risks.
Last year, City Auditor Courtney Ruby released a blistering report finding that Oakland “was not adequately prepared” to address the increase in homeless camps, lacking the necessary strategy, systems, or finances to keep camps clean or close those that posed a health risk.
Dunston, who like Simmons was generally respected by people in unhoused communities, oversaw the creation of the city’s controversial Encampment Management Policy at the end of 2020. The EMP spells out where people can and can’t live outside in Oakland, declaring a majority of the city off-limits, and determining how the city will provide services to camps or shut them down. Dunston left the city in March 2021, just as the policy was getting underway, for a job at the San Francisco Foundation.
Since then, Dunston has declined multiple requests to talk about his time as homelessness administrator. But speaking about the audit last year, he said “inherent tensions” and “competing interests” between the different levels of Oakland government—the city administration, the mayor’s office, and the City Council—prevented the city from pursuing a unified strategy for ending homelessness. He also criticized the general lack of funding for homelessness and shortage of affordable housing.
James Vann, an advocate with the Homeless Advocacy Working Group—a grassroots group organizing around city policy—said “we welcome Daniel Cooper to Oakland, and wish him all the best in the humongous task he faces.”
Vann said in an email that he hopes Cooper partners with advocates on “addressing the many umet political, social, physical, medical, mental, and other needs of Oakland’s unhoused world.”
Some homeless people and their supporters had urged the city to hire a homelessness administrator with former or current experience being unhoused. (It is unclear whether Cooper has such experience or not.)
Cooper will move to Oakland in April, according to the city. His start date was not mentioned.