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Needa Bee on Decarcerating Spaces & Homelessness

By Needa Bee Introduction by Margaretta Lin

Needa Bee at The Village in Deep East Oakland. Photos: Pendarvis Harshaw

Margaretta Lin’s Introduction to Needa Bee and The Village

The principles of transformative community planning and public policy design require us as planners and policy change advocates to center the experiences, voices, and power of frontline leaders who are directly impacted by the structural injustices we care about ending.  When we talk about decarceration and planning, it’s critical that we hear from unhoused activist leaders who are on the frontlines of fighting against the criminalization of our unhoused neighbors and fighting for their basic human rights to housing, dignity, and security.  A leading national grassroots leader in this movement is Anita De Asis Miralle aka Needa Bee, who is a mother, community activist, spoken word artist and chef.  Needa Bee co-founded The Village, a grassroots nonprofit led by unhoused activists that provides food, shelter, sanitation, and dignity to unhoused residents of Oakland, California.  Needa Bee and The Village have been co-leading major struggles against criminalizing Oakland’s unhoused peoples, the majority of whom are unhoused because of the Bay Area’s unaffordable housing market.  They are a leading light and hope for our world.

Needa Bee on Decarceration Through Housing as a Human Right

Homelessness and criminalizing landless bodies is built into the very fabric of the United States. The very first peoples to become unhoused, illegal, and criminal in the Americas are the Indigenous Peoples when the Europeans came to colonize. This ideology and practice continued on stolen Africans, Black Natives and their descendants through Jim Crow laws. Through decades, the creation of homeless/criminalized populations has prevailed through policies and practices. We're currently seeing another iteration of that: gentrification. The “natives” of different urban cities become homeless so that settler colonialism can manifest through gentrification. 

The policy work needed to solve this national housing crisis is a necessary piece of a larger puzzle. But if we do not address the systemic landlessness of Indigenous and Black folks, and work from there, we're not going to see the paradigm shift needed to truly solve homelessness. We urgently need to start creating policies that protect housing as a human right, rather than an opportunity for  hoarding profits and resources.

With all the violence happening in Oakland, one of the biggest pushes for us right now is for the city to understand that housing is violence and crime prevention. If you actually house people, you can prevent crime, because they're no longer living in survival mode. 

Yet, there are zero units of deeply affordable permanent housing included in the city’s blueprint to end homelessness. The plans to increase temporary shelter beds with no permanent housing means that thousands of people are being exited back into the streets when their temporary housing stay ends. Many of these folks have died in the streets they were returned to. The city's homeless interventions start from a place that believes encampment evictions are inevitable, and frames people trying to survive as a crime. Oakland’s encampment interventions include a massive police presence which automatically criminalizes the target population.  A majority living on the streets have deep trauma with police, and are too triggered to fight back; or they're on parole or probation, and have been stripped of the right to fight back.

Most of the city’s multi million dollar shelter interventions are run like prisons and their clients are treated as prisoners with contempt, judgment, abuse and neglect by the staff. There are curfews, nobody has a key to their own unit, and there’s often no water, electricity,  or heat. In this controlled environment, a sense of community is impossible. 

The biggest obstacle to solving this manufactured lack of affordable housing and ending homelessness in Oakland is our local government. For 24 years, we have had a government that is literally married to the agenda of gentrification. There is a lack of political will amongst our local politicians - many of whom have made campaign promises that were forgotten; who have talked a big game to the media and the public to cover the facts that billions of dollars to end homelessness are being mismanaged and misused. 

In October 2018, the Village released a policy research report with Just Cities and The East Oakland Collective laying out all the existing public land that exists, along with different sources of funding that currently exist. We found that within six months, Oakland could house 4,000 of its unhoused residents using the shelter crisis ordinance and non-traditional housing that could pop up quickly so it was to scale - like tiny house villages. We provided a list of the empty public lands that were either slated for affordable housing or multi-use, and had been sitting vacant for years. Not only did the city ignore the report, but they quickly sold most of the public parcels on the list to private developers to build housing for middle class residents or commuter parking lots. 

We need to publicly acknowledge gentrification as exploitative, oppressive, racist, and classist. We need a moratorium on gentrification, and elected officials need to embrace a new development model that meets the needs of the thousands of Oakland residents who can no longer afford housing. As long as government officials are ideologically and politically bound to the agenda of building for the gentry; they will not build for the working class or poor. 

Planning departments, city councils, and mayors need to assemble a task force that includes unhoused and  housed residents, homeless advocates, tenant rights advocates, violence prevention advocates, and non-profit developers to create an actual solution with immediate, mid- and long-term goals. We need policymakers and city planners who are guided by a moral compass that dictates housing as a human right, rather than housing as a commodity for the rich. Until this happens, business will continue as usual.

Anita De Asis Miralle aka Needa Bee is a mother, community activist, spoken word artist and chef. She was the Community Organizer for HERE Local 2 Restaurant and Hotel Workers’ Union; the former Executive Co-Director of both Critical Resistance Youth Force and Raperations Records; the former Program Manager of Mandela Arts Center. She was the founder of several organizations including Young Oakland, Healthy Hoodz, and 510Day. She is the co-founder and interim executive director of The Village in Oakland, volunteering in general with Village in Oakland. When she is not engaging in community work or creating art, the legendary Lumpia Lady of Oakland.

Margaretta Lin is a long-time racial and social justice movement co-leader working at the intersections of transformative community planning and structural change in public policy and government.  She is currently the founding executive director of Just Cities LLC, lecturer at UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and Department of City & Regional Planning, founding Director of the Dellums Clinic to Dismantle Structural Racism, and researcher at the Institute of Urban & Regional Development.




We feature stories on inclusive urban planning practices, grassroots organizing, and civic action. Our contributors and readers are activists, reporters, practitioners, academics, and community members.


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