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Residents of Oakland homeless camp say the city hasn't helped them during the storm


The massive storm in California is flooding homeless encampments throughout the state. In the Bay Area, residents of Oakland's Wood Street Commons camp say they are not getting the help they need. From member station KQED, Vanessa Rancano reports.

VANESSA RANCANO, BYLINE: Near the camp entrance, resident Messiah Ali is shoveling donated woodchips over a muddy walkway where rainwater is pooling.

MESSIAH ALI: We fighting Mother Nature.

RANCANO: He's hoping to prevent people from slipping and falling. In other parts of the camp, woodchips won't cut it. Ali follows a raised walkway cobbled together out of wooden pallets and sheets of metal to get to the plywood tiny home he built.

ALI: I put this makeshift bridge down. I'm hoping it don't get as high as the house - kind of high right there. See?

RANCANO: Here, the water is already several inches deep. Ali has lived in this camp for 10 years. Rains flooded Wood Street Commons on New Year's Eve, and residents are trying to prevent worse damage this time around. They've secured tarps over tents and RVs and stuffed valuables into garbage bags. The encampment got some sandbags from the city.

NORI TREACY: We've kind of had to DIY some other situations and just fill bags with, like, dirt and materials.

RANCANO: Volunteer Nori Treacy says the help isn't nearly enough for a camp with as many as 200 people living in it.

TREACY: We actually have been cleaning out the storm drains because they weren't draining.

RANCANO: Treacy says they called the city for help with that after the last storm.

TREACY: Haven't heard anything back, haven't seen anyone out here.

RANCANO: The Oakland city administrator said in a press release that the office has gotten hundreds of reports of storm-related emergency issues and is prioritizing those affecting public safety. But officials haven't responded to specific questions about Wood Street. The city has been planning to close this camp for months. The eviction is set for this coming Monday, and residents like Jaz Colibri are hoping city leaders will reconsider.

JAZ COLIBRI: With the rain, it would be even more devastating 'cause we'd be moving all our belongings, and they would be getting water damaged. And we would be putting our health at risk.

RANCANO: Colibri says the situation is dire.

COLIBRI: I'm hoping that maybe they will also consider canceling our eviction, not just 'cause of the weather but also 'cause they'd be destroying something that supports a lot of people and keeps a lot of people from being in a worse state than they already are.

RANCANO: On Wednesday, Oakland officials declared a local emergency and opened additional shelter beds, citing in part the vulnerability of the estimated 5,000 people living on city streets. For NPR News, I'm Vanessa Rancano in Oakland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MECK SONG, "6AM INTERLUDE/MILES AWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.