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With fire season here, it’s time to move the tents away from the inner city

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This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle has yet another front-page story on the fire danger posed by homeless encampments in Oakland.

The number of fires in RVs and tents is soaring, even as the Oakland Fire Department says it is “extremely concerned” by the “fire risks for the unhoused…the surrounding area, and the firefighters.” Indeed, with fire season already here, all Oaklanders should worry about an out-of-control fire that could take out an entire neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Oakland officials and pro-homeless nonprofits continue to dither. The Mayor and the City Council have no solutions. They continue to kick the can down the road, as they have for the last six years as the homelessness crisis has ravaged Oakland. Tiny cabins, solar panels, RV camps, social workers, tinkering with the police department’s budget—the rhetoric coming from the pro-homeless community is endless. But these are not solutions. They are meant merely to distract us. “We’re doing our best,” says City Council members Rebecca Kaplan. “But we have to do better.”

Then do it. There is an obvious solution to the tent camps: Relocate them all to areas where they pose no threat to the surrounding community. There are vast swaths of public lands available that, far from neighborhoods, would provide safe and clean harbor for every tent dweller in Oakland. The 400-acre Oakland Army Base has been decommissioned for more than two decades. Why not establish a vast tent community there, with all the amenities the homeless need (water, plumbing, electricity, garbage collection, social services)?

The Coalition for a Better Oakland believes that all campers should be offered the opportunity to be relocated to such tent cities, where finally they could establish real communities and work side-by-side with nonprofits and the city for permanent solutions. It would be a win-win-win situation: for homeless people, for beleaguered city officials, and for the harassed people of Oakland. If the city is not prepared to take such an obviously logical step, then let Mayor Schaaf, Ms. Kaplan and the other ditherers tell us why not.

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