Days after a homeless person in Oakland tested positive for Covid-19, the mayor and city council members announced a new project to temporarily house homeless people in travel trailers. The project is being funded in part by two prominent Jewish philanthropists.
Tad and Dianne Taube’s $500,000 donation accounts for one-third of Operation HomeBase’s startup operating costs, according to the city.
The program was announced May 5, fewer than 10 days after a patient who tested positive for Covid-19 at Highland Hospital identified a tent encampment in Oakland as their place of residence. That sent health officials into action, conducting contact-tracing and quarantining suspected contacts in a hotel.
While millions hunker down inside their houses and apartments, the homeless are among the few in California exempt from state shelter-in-place orders, for obvious reasons. Many unhoused in Oakland are living in ramshackle encampments with little privacy and struggling to follow hygiene recommendations meant to prevent the spread of coronavirus. A 2019 point-in-time count estimated there were 4,071 homeless people living in Oakland, and the number was increasing.
The program identifies homeless people who are at risk “of serious complications from Covid-19,” the city said, due to age or underlying health conditions, and offers them temporary accommodations in 67 travel trailers provided by the state of California.
The trailers are parked in a lot on Hegenberger Road in East Oakland, and can house up to two people each. They have hot and cold running water, a bathroom and shower, electricity and some kitchen appliances, the city said.
“This intervention is a quick and compassionate step to slow the spread of Covid-19 and upgrade the living conditions of our unsheltered neighbors,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in announcing the program. “I am grateful to Gov. Newsom and the state of California for the trailers, and I am thrilled to announce a grant award of $500,000 dollars by Taube Philanthropies to support this important initiative. We are deeply grateful to Tad and Dianne Taube for their generosity.”
City officials estimated the start-up costs for the project at $1.5 million and annual operating costs at $1.8 million. The state is covering some operating expenses through its Emergency Covid-19 response fund, and the city said it anticipates some reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Belmont-based Taube Family Foundation and the S.F.-based Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, a donor-advised fund through Jewish Family and Children’s Services, are familiar to many in the Bay Area’s Jewish community. Over the years the real-estate magnate Taube, 89, and his wife, Dianne, have donated to both Jewish and pro-Israel causes through their foundations, and to non-denominational organizations like Stanford University, Taube’s alma mater. In February, Taube Philanthropies announced a $6 million gift to the San Francisco Opera.
The Taube Family Foundation reported about $38 million in total assets in 2019, according to the most recent publicly available IRS tax filings. The Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture reported about $22 million at year’s end 2017. The family also maintains a donor-advised fund through Stanford University.
A spokesperson for the organization said during the pandemic, it had given or repurposed about $1 million to Jewish organizations including local JCCs – plus $240,000 to civic organizations like the Commonwealth Club and the Ronald McDonald House.
In a statement to J., Tad Taube thanked the city of Oakland and Schaaf for their partnership, and said he and Dianne “believe in supporting pathways to health and self-sufficiency.”
“The unhoused residents of Oakland are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and need immediate help to isolate,” he said. “Staying safe can help them to stay healthy when the crisis wanes.”