It was an unusual Monday afternoon at Mosswood. Live jazz, funk, and R&B reverberated across the park. Volunteers scooped beans and cornbread onto plates and filled grocery bags with canned food. A barber was busy in a corner clipping hair.

This was the Compassion in Action festival, a concert put on by the nearby First Presbyterian Church of Oakland, with funding from the city of Oakland. The idea was to perform for an audience, the city’s unhoused residents, who are often unable to access live entertainment, organizer and musician Joe Warner told us last week.

While the people who showed up grooved to the tunes and filled their stomachs, the crowd size was a fraction of what the church had hoped for. Organizers did outreach at homeless camps and facilities that serve unhoused people, but one coordinator said Monday that many people are hesitant to leave their tents and belongings unattended. Some people living in tents at the park observed the scene from afar, while several other people, both unhoused and housed, came out and enjoyed the show.

We spoke with some attendees to hear what they thought of the event and how they were doing that afternoon, as the sun peeked in and out of the clouds above the amphitheater.

Marche Singh and Foxy Lady

A smiling woman, wearing colorful and floral clothing, holds her small dog on her lap.
Credit: Amir Aziz

Marche Singh took the bus from Alameda to catch the show. Her 3-year-old dog Foxy Lady tagged along.

“I wish more people were here to really take advantage of this,” Singh said. “How often do you get a free concert?”

Singh was displaced from her family’s house in Emeryville after it burned down recently. When she ended up at Kaiser—across the street from Mosswood—for an asthma attack, she told the staff she needed a place to stay and got hooked up with a private room at a transitional housing site in Alameda. It has a shower and a door that closes. “That’s the important part,” Singh said.

Ken Dulaney

A man gets a haircut from another man in the middle of a park.
Credit: Amir Aziz

Ken Dulaney felt right at home soaking in the sounds of Bernard Anderson & The Old School Band.

“I grew up with blues—my mother was a blues fanatic,” he said. Dulaney said a friend of his gave him a flier advertising the festival, and he passed some out as well.

“I was on my way through the neighborhood and thought, let me stop here first. I’m glad I did,” he said. Dulaney noted that even at free events, food usually comes at a steep price. But at this festival, he could get his fill—and a haircut—without opening his wallet.

“They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, and we’re doing what we’re supposed to do—coming out and enjoying ourselves,” he said.

Donald W. Davis

A man with a serious but content expression. Behind him are trees and tents in the distance.
Credit: Amir Aziz

Music “frees the soul,” said Donald W. Davis, who heard about Compassion in Action from a friend when they were working some odd jobs together a couple of weeks ago. Originally from West Oakland, Davis grew up playing in Mosswood Park as a child, but he’s lived all over the place since then, including New Mexico and Reno. He wears an eccentric collection of jewelry he picked up along the way, each piece telling a different story from a time in his life.

Davis’ parents would listen to the kind of music coming from the stage on Monday. His review of the event: “Good vibrations, friendly people.”

Rodell and The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol

Someone holds a cell phone up to get a photograph of two men and a woman, smiling with their arms around each other. The woman is wearing a bright tiger-striped top and bejeweled sunglasses.
Credit: Amir Aziz

Rodell, left, grew up playing basketball in the park with the Mosswood Legends. On Monday, he “happened to be sitting in the parking lot reading,” when he noticed that “something unusual” was going on.

“This is a good way of giving back to people in this community,” said Rodell, who’s from West Oakland. “There should be no homeless veterans in this country. If the politicians can’t do it, we the people have to do it.”

The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol, a renowned Bay Area jazz and blues singer, pictured in the center, headlined the festival.

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.