That could change, if a proposal to create a year-round shelter and nearby "tent city" gains support and a promise of future funding from city officials.
During the course of a year in Oakland, about 6,300 people are homeless at one time or another, with more than 900 people living on the streets for a year or more. A quarter of Oakland's homeless population are families with children. More than 17,000 city residents with special medical needs or mental illness are on the verge of homelessness.
Oakland's initiative to house the city's chronic homeless population or those most at risk of losing their home is part of a 15-year countywide plan to provide permanent housing for all its poor, disabled and mentally ill residents.
To accomplish that goal, the city must move from a system that relies on emergency shelters, hotel vouchers and transitional housing by providing 7,380 units of permanently affordable housing and supportive services by 2020, according to an informational report headed to multiple City Council committees Tuesday.
That goal is daunting enough. But finding permanent housing solutions for people who have spent a year or more on the streets presents a thornier set of issues. Many abuse drugs or alcohol and don't want to give up their habit, or can't without therapy and support. Others have some form of mental illness that requires monitoring and medication.
Some have pets, others don't want to abide by a curfew or other rules that are too restrictive or don't allow them to come and go as they please. Still others have been outside so long, they may get claustrophobia if they move in-doors.
"There is a core group that is going to take some work and some patience and some kind of intense collaboration between (outreach teams)," said Mike Church, homeless outreach coordinator with Oakland's department of Human Services. "Hopefully, we can all work together."
According to the latest countywide homeless count, about 60 semipermanent homeless camps are across the city in nearly every council district. Conservative estimates created during winter homeless counts put the number of chronically homeless individuals at 600 to 900.
The camps generate complaints from neighbors about litter, human waste, drugs and crime.
To particularly deal with the camps, city staff want to operate a smaller,
50-bed year-round emergency shelter at the former Army Base in the same building where the 100-bed winter shelter was located and increase mobile outreach teams working with the individuals in the camps.
The rest of the shelter building would be outfitted for daytime drop-in services that offer an array of services such as medical and mental health assessments, case management, substance abuse counseling and housing placement services.
The tent city or, to be accurate, a series of modular buildings would be set up in the parking lot to provide short-term housing for the hard-core homeless folks until they are relocated to supportive permanent housing, Church said.
The goal is to place 20 clients from the camps in permanent housing each month, Church said. The anticipated total cost for the expanded outreach, shelter adjustments, services and tent city is $971,704.
Although finding monetary support to address housing and homeless services has proved difficult in the past, Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel said she believes her colleagues might be ready to commit dollars to the cause and she plans to ask that it be
included in the city's budget.
"They've been talking about funding homelessness for a while, and each time the money seems to vanish into some other use," she said. "Now it seems like just about everyone has homeless encampments in their district."
Joe Brown, 50, and Woodrow Woods, 49, played dominoes Friday at one end of a picnic table in Fitzgerald Park while their friends played chess at the other end.
They were surprised to hear the city was considering a plan to provide housing and services for them, and both said they would go inside, as long as it wasn't too restrictive and didn't feel like jail.
"I got a tent, a man around the corner told me I couldn't have it there," Brown said, explaining he'd spent about 10 years on the street since moving west from Louisiana. "I have a job. I make $60 a day at the recyclingcenter."
Not enough for an apartment or single room occupancy hotel room.
Wood is an auto mechanic and picks up odd jobs. He said he has a hole in his head from being pushed onto a wood spike when he was only 6. Since then he has had trouble reading.
"It affected my brain, and it's sometimes it's hard to remember things," he said.
Wood said he spent 11 years in the Army Reserves and National Guard but doesn't know if he is eligible for any benefits.
"A lot of people don't want to go inside," he said. "As long as I can go in and shower or take me a bath, I'll go. But I'll leave if I want to."
Unlike the traditional model of transitional housing, the tent city would be much more flexible to woo the hardcore campers inside. It would operate somewhat like the winter shelter, where individuals could arrive "wet," as in drunk or high, but not allowed to use or drink once inside.
But unlike the winter shelter, where clients were ordered out each morning and made to stay away until late afternoon, the residents could stay on site and take advantage of the services offered at the drop-in center next door.
"I hope we will be able to work with them to establish some rules so they have some input in them," Nadel said. "There will be storage space that is secure, and I'm hoping we will be able to deal with the issue of animals, because sometimes they won't enter a shelter because they can't bring their pets. We want to make sure we can set up something so there is no reason not to go."
Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) agrees homelessness is a problem and resources need to be allocated for services, but he wants to make sure the city doesn't expose itself to liability or take resources from other worthy programs.
"I just want to make sure that whatever we do doesn't create a situation that could become very costly and we support that at the expense of some of the other responsibilities we have," he said.
The report on homeless encampments will be presented at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Community and Economic Development Committee, and 6 p.m. at the Life Enrichment Committee, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland.