OAKLAND (KPIX) — A non-profit organization in Oakland is enacting a pilot program to manage homeless encampments by paying campers for their belongings.
Oakland officials said there are roughly 150 small and large encampments scattered throughout the city. A big complaint is those encampments have been largely unregulated in recent years but it’s not for lack of trying: the city of Oakland spends millions of dollars each year cleaning up homeless camps.
“Desperate times, you have to do desperate things and creative things,” said Ken Houston, with the Oakland Beautification Council, a non-profit that’s been working to clean up the city.
“Cash for ‘trashsure,’ cash for ‘trashsure’ because some individuals do not want to leave these streets ’cause they’ll be leaving their only processions behind,” Houston said. “They’ll be able to release and be able to accept other conditions which will be moving into housing instead of being out here in these conditions.”
The council will only offer money to people who are violating Oakland’s new encampment management policy, which bans camps from being within 150 feet of schools or within 50 feet of homes, businesses and parks.
Houston’s organization struck a deal to pay $800 to Kevin Baltrip, who has been camping out near a school and across from homes in east Oakland since April.
“I’m a bicycle mechanic,” Baltrip said. “What I plan to do with my $800 is buying a cargo trailer and kind of using it as a mobile bike shop.”
On Monday, as part of their deal, Baltrip will help Houston remove and clean his site.
“If everything goes well, I might even be able to get out of this situation and get my children and my family back — gives me hope,” said Baltrip, whose kids are in foster care. He has been homeless for more than two years.
Houston admitted the program won’t work for everybody and some people question how he will prevent people from returning to the same spots they had left.
“It’s not perfect but it’s taking that step. You can’t think everything is going to be perfect. You just got to take the steps and try to create better change for the people that are suffering,” Houston said.
He says the pilot program is currently funded by donations. If it is successful, Houston plans to ask Oakland council members and Alameda County supervisors to fully fund it and turn it into a city-wide program.