Oakland May Lose Millions ‘Seeking to Shirk Its Responsibility' to Wood Street Residents

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The city of Oakland may lose millions of state dollars or more because the city is "seeking to shirk its responsibility" over housing homeless people on Caltrans property along Wood Street in city limits, a letter Thursday to City Attorney Barbara Parker from Gov. Gavin Newsom's office said.

According to Newsom's office, Oakland is taking a "novel legal position" that it has no responsibility to house the individuals, even though the city received $4.7 million for rehousing activities at Wood Street.  

The letter stated local governments generally have the responsibility for providing shelter and re-housing for people who are homeless, while Caltrans is a transportation agency. It has no authority to provide housing or shelter to the public, the letter said.

"To be clear, there is no such thing as a 'resident of Caltrans,' as the city's position suggests," the letter from Ann Patterson, legal affairs secretary in Newsom's office, states. 

If Oakland maintains its position, the state may redirect funds away from Oakland to local governments that will provide services to Oakland residents. 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff spoke with NBC Bay Area Thursday as she responded to the letter.

“We will abide by every agreement for that $4.7 million grant,” she said. “We are working hard with Caltrans to utilize that grant exactly the way that we promised and that is to help and house the people at Wood Street.”

NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai spoke to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf about the latest controversy about the homeless encampment known as Wood Street.

There have been several fires at the Wood Street encampment including one that temporarily shut down the MacArthur Maze for hours.

Caltrans moved in to begin cleaning up the site last month. But a judge temporarily blocked the cleanup, and it said Caltrans needed to come up with a housing plan for all those currently live in the camp.

All of this makes it tough for agencies like the Homeless Action Center to help the people living at the encampment.

“That encampment does cover some Caltrans property, some of it is on the city of Oakland side of the street. But at this point, people just need the services,” said Heather Freinkel of the Homeless Action Center.

The governor’s office said since the pandemic, it has shelled out $300 million to Oakland and Alameda County.

The governor’s office is looking for a response to the letter by Friday, in the final paragraphs, it said that "failure to do so may result in the redirection of discretionary funding."

Bay City News contributed to the report.

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