August 15, 2021

Help Fund Water for the Homelesslegal access to public water for the East Bay’s unhoused

This post is part of a series, Water Boy.

I’m about to mail a $1,000 check to East Oakland Collective to help fund a portable hydrant water meter. Volunteers, including yours truly, will use that meter to pump drinking water for folks living on the streets of the East Bay, right where they live.

If alleviating crushing thirst among the most vulnerable residents of Oakland, Berkeley, and surrounding areas touches your heart, please consider donating online or mailing a check to:

The East Oakland Collective
P.O. Box 5382
Oakland, CA 94605

Any amount helps. Those who can give more, from hundreds of dollars up, are encouraged to donate by check marked “For: Hydrant Meter”, to maximize the amount EOC receives. East Oakland Collectively is currently a fiscally sponsored project of a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit, and will provide acknowledgment letters for those who want to deduct.

East Oakland Collective and I go back a couple years now. I have advised them as pro bono legal counsel in the past, and expect I will again in the future. When I first decided to get involved helping unhoused people in Oakland, I looked for a project that I could do myself, to meet the people and learn the situation, and I looked for an organization already doing meaningful work out on the streets, to help in ways in which I’m already competent. My personal project became water. The organization way ahead of me was obviously East Oakland Collective.

Special thanks are due Candice Elder, Keta Price, and the whole EOC team for stepping up as the first nonprofit making use of this new water-access option. As far as I know, this is the first of its kind in the country. Every step is an important step when thirst is involved, but this feels like a particularly big one. And I strongly suspect we’ll see more organizations, including at least one in Berkeley, help pilot this approach in the near future.

The board of directors of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, or “EBMUD”, our local water utility, approved this new use of hydrant-meter program earlier this summer. Their approach is largely in line with an open-letter proposal signed by East Oakland Collective and yours truly, among others, last fall. Andrew Lee, Manager of Customer & Community Services, really went out of his way to get this done, and quickly. It wouldn’t have happened without him. COVID permitting, I’m hoping we can get him out to a camp with a meter for some photos. Hopefully I can find a mask big enough to cover my grin when the first safe water flows.

For those interested in the money side of things, our budget estimate for the project, which includes a comfortable cushion for safety, comes to just under $5,400 for one year. The bulk goes to equipment costs and program fees to the utility. Account and equipment in hand, the cost of water itself becomes almost negligible, in line with the rates housed residents pay at their homes.

It will be remarkably cost-effective—hilariously cheaper than bottled water—to fill cans, tanks, and other safe vessels on site with the meter. It will also be way easier and more convenient. We’ll be able to start experimenting with larger on-site storage vessels, from intermediate bulk containers to standing water tanks. I want to call out Berkeley Free Clinic, Nick Gurette, and now Mary Munat and Green Mary, for leading the way here with their homebuilt tanker truck and on-site delivery work. We’ve learned a lot from each other, and it’s great to see it adding up with each new project.

On a personal note, I will be especially happy to have a new way to help camps and campers without lugging water around. I smashed a vertebral disc for the fifth or sixth time earlier this year. I’m developing more protective strength to try to break the cycle of those injuries. In the meantime, I simply can’t take the risk of hauling fifty-pound jerry cans around Oakland. Even for friends in need.

Finally, speaking of friends, I have to mention Derrick Soo of the 77th Avenue Rangers for guidance and support from day one on this project. His open voice of experience of life on the street, plus his willingness to experiment with equipment and approaches, were absolutely key in bringing this proposal together with confidence. I’m sure he and I will keep trading text messages about the water situation, angling to make it better, and hunting for parts bargains, as we can.

It’s good to have partners. It’s good to have friends. They give us the confidence to recognize when a little money really can make the difference.

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome by e-mail.

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