Oakland approves new Encampment Management Policy, "public-space zoning"

Tim McCormick

To: PDX Shelter Forum pdxshelterforum.org
Bcc: Marisa Kendall, Bay Area News Group,
  Lucas Hillier, City of Portland Homelessness/Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program (HUCIRP

Amid high controversy and intense opposition from some advocacy groups (see Twitter discussions), Oakland's City Council last night unanimously approved a landmark [Homeless] Encampment Management Policy.

It establishes "High Sensitivity" and "Low Sensitivity" zones for the whole city. The City plans to prioritize keeping free of encampments the High Sensitivity areas, which include all vehicular traffic lanes, bike lanes, and sidewalks; areas within 150 feet of a school, and within 50 feet of a residence or business, playground, public park or sports field, or protected waterway. Unapproved encampments within a high-sensitivity area will be closed, with advance notice and defined procedures.

In Low-Sensitivity areas (everywhere else), encampments shall have requirements including being limited to one side of a street, not exceeding 12 x 12 square feet per person; and all structures, tents, and vehicles separated by six feet. Non-compliant encampments are subject to closure. 

Below is a map released by opponents of the policy, claiming to depict the High Sensitivity areas (red) and how little area is left (green).  Incidentally, I lived for several years in West Oakland, the leftmost part of map, near the center of the highest concentration of camps and now Low Sensitivity areas. Proponents / City officials are apparently disputing the accuracy of this map, but I have not seen an official or other map released. (a very good idea to help people understand such policies, I'd like to see this for Portland's recent Shelter to Housing Continuum project, Discussion Draft! Perhaps releasing a critical map is a good way to get a city to release what they think is an accurate one).  


While the policy expresses intent to clean and close camps, it also says "The City will not cite or arrest any individual solely for camping, or otherwise for the status of being homeless." Opponents are voicing challenges to the policy on legal grounds including the Martin v. Boise 9th Circuit ruling, but Oakland officials have pushed back saying it has been legally evaluated, and the City has already successfully defended against multiple Martin v. Boise-based lawsuits. 

Tristia Bauman of National Homelessness Law Center commented
The proposed “Encampment Management Policy” uses people’s lack of housing to deny basic human rights like water, sanitation, health services, garbage pickup and will criminalize folks trying to survive in 95% of Oakland!

This Oakland policy is probably the most explicit and comprehensive example yet seen of addressing homelessness issues through "public-space zoning", i.e. zoning urban space into different areas where behaviors are regulated and enforced differently. This is an idea that has long been de facto practiced -- i.e. traditional "skid row" and "main stem" and hobo settlement areas -- and discussed particularly by legal scholar Robert Ellickson [1996] and respondents.

See discussion and links to key articles/studies about this on HousingWiki, "Homeless Encampments" article, "Criminalization of homelessness, and Public-space zoning" section.

Regarding the Oakland situation, there's an impressively rich range of background materials posted at the City site for the meeting, including studies and polling and advocacy input going back many months.  Compared to other cities including Portland, I'd say that the public debate on this is more developed and broad than elsewhere -- whatever one feels about the present policy approval. Also, it seems that this debate has led to more clearly discussed and defined terms/procedures for how the city will respond to camps. We have noted that in Portland, for example, there seems to be significant and perhaps unnecessary confusion about terms like "cleanup" and "clearance" or what the actual current practices are. 

Oakland Encampment Management Policy:

Encampment Management Implementation Strategy:

Oaklandside story about it Oct 19:

San Jose Mercury story today (caution: slow-loading & adware-heavy):

City of Oakland, full materials for this item at Oct 20 City Council meeting
(has ALL the related docs linked, back to July - 36 items).

Tim McCormick
Editor at HousingWiki, Organizer at Village Collaborative
Portland, Oregon