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To Raymondi Park, From Wood Street Commons

Open letter to Oakland Ballers, republished for PoorMagazine

By Freeway, Resident Organizer of WoodStreetCommons and Acting President of West Oakland Homeless Union

To whom it may concern,

My name is Freeway. I'm an unhoused advocate and a founding member of the Wood Street Commons. We're a local non-profit based out of West Oakland; we actually got our humble beginning on the very lot you will soon be using for parking. 

In case you're not familiar with the history of that lot, I'll briefly fill you in. For approximately the past decade, the 1707 Wood Street lot was the home of upwards of 300 unhoused Oaklanders. We were often touted as "the largest homeless encampment in Northern California", but we were so much more than that; we offered a safe space for anyone who had nowhere else to go.

There was a community garden, a community kitchen- which fed anyone who came through on a daily basis; we had an organized community, hosting weekly community meetings; we had a clothing closet, and worked with Lifelong Healthcare to see that all of our residents got the care they needed. 

In April of 2023, after lengthy battle- both in and out of court- the remaining section of our community was violently closed, leaving over 300 people displaced, and with little hope for their future. A handful of us entered into the community cabin site down the street, only to be further traumatized and disappointed by the abusive staff, the lack of funds for programs, and the deplorable living conditions.

To put it simply, we were better off on the streets. 

Over the past year, we've watched in horror as the city we call home had continually turned its back on its most vulnerable population. We've cried, shouted in anger, and sat in dismay, as over and over again, restrictive, dehumanizing policies have been passed, forcing us deeper and deeper into the shadowed corners of the city. These policies serve to only further criminalize us, and waste millions- sometimes billions- of tax payers dollars. 

But, the dollars lost pales in comparison to the lives lost.

Since the closure of the original Woods Street Commons, we've seen more community members die than be housed. And still, the city continues to ignore us. 

When I read the article about your baseball team, and the new location you'll call home, I felt it absolutely vital that I reach out to you. 

In the wake of our displacement, many of our residents relocated to Raymondi Park, only to experience harassment, violence, even death threats from surrounding neighbors. Ultimately, these individuals were displaced from this location as well. 

It would seem with so much loss and despair that we would've given up; quite the contrary. Through all of this hurt and pain, our community had found a way to grow even stronger. Determined to not go down without a fight, a small group of us have been working tirelessly to help our community heal from these traumas and grow in the face of adversity. With the support of over 800 people, including our local team of advocates and lawyers, we've accomplished our short-term goal of becoming an official 501c(3) non-profit. 

With this recognition, we are now able to continue the work we started at 1707, feeding, clothing, and nurturing our community, as well as other local encampments. We've partnered with other local organizations to ensure that we reach as many Oaklanders that need us as we can. 

We have also continued to work towards solutions to the deeper, endemic, root problems that perpetuate homelessness; issues like restrictive policies that criminalize the poor, ridiculously high rent, and the false negative narratives that deepen the divide between the housed and unhoused. 

We've also been working diligently with a local architect by the name of Mike Pyatok to design an all-inclusive, self-sustaining, work- live community. At its complete state, it would be able to house and shelter about 750 people. That includes, single individuals as well as families and couples, with a special section designated to teachers and artisans. It would include vocational training, educational courses, a child care facility, a dog park, a cafeteria style food court, plus on- site mental, physical, and dental clinics. There would also be a specific section dedicated to RV dwellers with the option of training in refurbishment of these vehicles. Additionally, there are several options for micro- enterprises to help sustain the costs of maintenance, keeping the rent at a low-or-no basis. 

The best part of this is the staffing: the programs, including the safety ambassadors and case managers, would be staffed by unhoused individuals who have gone through a training process during their time on the campus. 

There is one detail that is blocking us from achieving this goal: we need the funds for the land. 

The site that we've got the best chance of success with is a 22 acre lot on Wake Ave. It's an old army base, and as-is would need land remediation. We're in the process of interviewing companies for the job at present time. Which brings me to the reason for this letter. 

In the article in Oaklanside, I read that the baseball team would potentially be donating some funds towards local charities. We'd like to be one of them. The eviction that took place didn't just destroy our belongings, or destroyed our faith in the city's leaders, and in human kind. This kind of donation would be the perfect bridge lessening the divide between the housed  and unhoused. It would also be an opportunity for your team to prove to Oakland that the bottom line is not more important than helping your fellow human. 

We'd love am opportunity to discuss this with you in further detail, and answer any questions you might have. If there's a time we could meet, we'd very much appreciate it. 

Our points of contact are myself and John Janosko.

My contact info is located below, and his is the following: 510.712-7639, Please let us know at your earliest convenience. 

We look forward to hearing from you and potentially partnering in the future. 

Thank you for taking the time to consider this. 

In humble service, 

Freeway (they/ them)

Resident Organizer/Dir. of Harm Reduction

>Wood Street Commons<

Acting President

>West Oakland Homeless Union<


"If you choose to stay silent in the face of oppression, you have chosen to side with the oppressor." ~Desmond Tutu


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