'Pride in community': Oakland nonprofit crew cleans up, disinfects homeless camps for COVID-19

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- In Oakland, a local nonprofit is trying to help make that city's homeless encampments a little cleaner, and safer amid a deepening pandemic. It's an invaluable program in partnership with the city of Oakland, and other public and private agencies that may soon come to an end, once its federal funding ends at the close of the year.

"Sweep it up, tighten it all up, shovel it up. And then pick up the little stuff," says Ken Houston, a community organizer and activist as he shouts instructions to a small group of yellow-clad workers, who have assembled at one of Oakland's growing homeless encampments.

These are the people who clean up what Oakland City public works crews leave behind, serving a growing homeless community that often feels left behind.

RELATED: Coronavirus impact: COVID-19 could be deadly to Bay Area's homeless population
EMBED More News Videos

Taking a closer look at how novel coronavirus may impact the homeless community in the Bay Area.



"I haven't been working in almost four years," said Jerome Senegal, one member of the crew.

Until recently, Senegal lived right where he was standing, part of a sprawling encampment underneath the freeway at 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, one of dozens like it in Oakland.

Now he's part of team that's doing their part to make it a little cleaner, a little safer.

"It makes me feel like somebody cares and it also gives me a chance to have pride in my own area, to have pride in my own community," said Senegal.

RELATED: Oakland unveils 'Operation HomeBase,' will provide emergency trailer homes for at-risk homeless residents

"This is called Operation COVID-19 Mitigation," explained Houston, the project organizer. "We're supplying them with resources, we're supplying them with dignity and they're helping clean up their own area."

Often, what's left behind after the Oakland public works crews come through includes needles, human waste, diapers and a variety of contaminants.

RELATED: Coronavirus crisis: Here's why SF officials are giving homeless alcohol, tobacco
EMBED More News Videos

San Francisco officials say in order to increase the number of guests who stay in isolation, they are meeting homeless people where they are. In some cases, that includes the distribution of some alcohol and tobacco to those in quarantine.



Once all the debris is gone, these crews spray the entire area with a COVID-19 killing solution that includes at least 30% hydrogen peroxide - a process that plays out daily, at nearly 50 other illegal dumping sites around the city.

The workers, mostly from the camps themselves, are paid a stipend loaded onto a Mastercard.

Right now, the pilot program is paid for with a $175,000 grant from the Federal CARES Act.

But that money is set to run out on December 30.

"I'm hoping that the new president, Kamala Harris, the DA, anybody that can help advance this program," said Houston. "'Cause it's working. We're killing the COVID-19 virus. We're helping the community. We're cleaning up."

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.


If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.

Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here

RELATED STORIES & VIDEOS:
Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.