37 MLK

As California’s housing crisis deepens, due to skyrocketing rents, many locals, have been forced from their long-time homes and are now homeless, within their own neighborhoods.

But a neighborhood in Oakland, shines as an example of what neighbors can do when they work together.

Stefani Echeverría-Fenn walked past a vacant lot every day on her way to work for years. After learning of a friend who had lost her home due to rising rents, she became inspired and took action. She cleared the land of weeds and set up a tent for herself, to show others what could be done with it.

Now called 37MLK, for its address, it grew into a community of long-time female residents who had lived in the area for most of their lives but could no longer afford housing. Many grew up together and knew each other.

Stefani lives in an apartment nearby, but also in her tent at 37MLK, because she feels that if she can’t live there, it’s not good enough.

With the support of neighboring homeowners, the site has become a homeless sanctuary, complete with a solar shower, a communal kitchen and dining area, camping toilets and a pump-operated sink.

Walkways between tents are lined with solar-powered lights and mini white picket fences. A garden provides fresh food, and chickens are kept for eggs and pest control. The entire area is kept clean by the resident women, while neighbors help with trash and waste disposal.

Together, this community has made 37MLK a model for local lawmakers, showing how residents, with and without homes, can work and live alongside one another while much-needed affordable housing is erected.

In early 2020, inspired by this success, Oakland city council allocated $600,000 to launch a pilot project based on the homeless encampment, intending to build more communities where all neighbors can care for one another.