After years of speaking out about piles of trash and other hazards in their neighborhoods, a group of East Oakland residents gathered Friday morning to demand city leaders clean up a blighted intersection immediately.
“This is one of many locations throughout the flatlands that continues to be neglected,” said Lesbhia Morones, a member of Faith in Action East Bay, which organized the press conference with Block by Block Organizing Network at 45th Avenue and Bond Street.
Morones recounted pressuring city officials to address illegal dumping and other health hazards threatening local families at “countless meetings and several public actions,” to no avail.
“We’re fed up,” she said. “It looks like nothing has been done.”
The 45th and Bond intersection where the press conference was held is both residential and commercial, with houses lining some of the blocks, and a parking lot and backside of a shopping complex taking up others. The streets in the area are cracked and crumbling, and the sidewalks Friday were littered with trash.
Blue López, a 16-year-old Fremont High School student, said the piles of garbage make it hard to get around safely as a person with a disability.
“From where I’m standing I can see where I live and the high school,” said López. “My mom drove me to school today—not because it’s too far for me to walk as a disabled kid, but because it’s too painful for me. I struggle with taking my wheelchair around trash, broken sidewalks, and homeless encampments.”
López said they’re frequently followed and catcalled on their way to school.
Fremont High School Principal Nidya Báez spoke at the press conference too—both she and López are members of the Melrose 27X Neighborhood Council.
“City officials would never allow mountains of trash to build up in hills neighborhoods,” said Báez, reading from a group statement.
The residents and organizers said they’re giving city officials 72 hours from Monday morning to make sure 45th and Bond is “cleared of all abandoned vehicles, encampments, and all loitering and kept clean permanently.”
Some people currently live in tents pitched along the sidewalk behind the press conference location, and others in RVs parked there. The hosts of Friday’s events repeatedly said they aren’t advocating for “displacing” unhoused people. Instead, they want the city to provide homeless residents in the area with housing.
“This is not an attack or knock against those who are houseless,” said Pastor Michael Wallace of Faith in Action and Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. “Our houseless community members deserve our love and attention, but they also deserve our help.”
However, the group’s demand that the city clear the area’s encampments is at odds with cries from other community groups for the city to stop “sweeps” of homeless people, or to give them more advance notice before they have to uproot their lives.
The city recently settled a 2018 lawsuit filed by a group of unhoused residents in Oakland over the way the city conducts encampment closures. Under the settlement, the city agreed to give a week’s notice before conducting closures, meaning the East Oakland group’s demand may not be permitted under city law.
Towards the end of Friday’s press conference, a formerly homeless woman who’d been observing the gathering spoke up.
“Maybe you guys could have people who’ve experienced homelessness out here,” said Tajanik Thompson, who recently landed an apartment at an affordable housing property in Berkeley after many tough years living on the streets in Oakland.
She later told The Oaklandside that she’d been dismayed to “hear some people put homeless people down” during the event, noting that many unhoused residents have no other choice but to live outside. Thompson said she hopes to offer her insight and support to the group, which she’d like to see advocate for more programs for youth, to keep them off the streets.
During the press conference, resident Lidia Leon said the circumstances in the neighborhood are “inhumane for the unhoused and for us.”
She described the harrowing reality of encountering discarded syringes and the scent of human waste whenever she leaves her house. She said her husband was a victim of an armed robbery and her son’s car was stolen a week ago.
The group sent a letter explaining these grievances and demands to city officials. They also seemed to expect that members of the city administration leadership would show up Friday to hear them out, but none did.
Staff members from District 5 City Councilmember Noel Gallo and at-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s offices did join, however, along with Kevin Jenkins, who’s maintained a strong lead in the race to represent District 6.
“I live here in this neighborhood,” said Preston Turner, who works on homelessness policy for Gallo’s office. “I’m appalled and I apologize.” He noted that Gallo, who represents the Fruitvale area including the 45th Avenue intersection, hosts weekly neighborhood clean-ups, but said he “can’t do it alone.”
City officials have said their crews work relentlessly to remove trash throughout the city—in one recent year clearing 23,000 tons of garbage—but can’t keep up with the pace of illegal dumping.
The East Oakland group’s demands come two months after a September Zoom meeting that drew some 200 residents and city officials to discuss the same issues. Several people noted that despite the leaders’ continued pledges to make changes, just a few weeks later a man was killed and another injured in a shooting by 45th and Bond.
“Life has already been lost,” said Leon, “and our families’ ability to continue living in these neighborhoods depends on these solutions.”