UCP: An Oakland-Based Organization’s Approach to the Housing Crisis

On April 14th, the Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL) co-sponsored an on-campus event focused on supporting Bay Area’s unhoused populations. The event, attended by over 100 students, staff and community members, was organized by Urban Compassion Project (UCP), an Oakland-based grassroots organization dedicated to empowering and uplifting unhoused residents in the Bay Area.

The program began with UCP’s Executive Director Vincent Williams sharing his powerful story of how he founded UCP. Williams, an Oakland native, endured extremely difficult circumstances growing up. He experienced severe abuse by his foster mother and was ignored by law enforcement when he called to report his situation. At the young age of 8, Vincent sought relief from his pain and ran away from home. For the next couple decades, he journeyed on a path tread by so many who have been subject to life without a home — a path riddled with despair and societal neglect.

Vincent persevered in incredible ways — ways he should not have had to if our system was built to support our unhoused. In an effort to bring back dignity to the unhoused and mobilize others to do so, Vincent ultimately founded UCP.

Following Vincent’s story, UCP Board Members and current Haas MBA students Supriya Golas and myself discussed the current scale of the local housing crisis and UCP’s ongoing efforts to affect change.

There are currently 30,000 unhoused people in the five Bay Area counties, including 6,500 in Oakland. Homelessness disproportionately affects the Black community who make up 70% of the unhoused population in Oakland.

One of the primary ways UCP brings dignity to its neighbors is through community cleanups. Between 2020 and 2021, there were 13 football fields of trash covering up to a person’s waist in Oakland and ~90% of this trash found on the streets comes from illegal dumping. The majority of this trash is discarded in spaces where unhoused residents reside because the assumption is those without a home simply want to remain dirty.

Since its inception in 2021, UCP has carried out several dozen cleanups. They have mobilized over 810 volunteers in collecting 72 tons of trash and have also connected over 1,800 individuals with mutual aid services. UCP has now been profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Times.

The second half of the event was focused on how the Haas community can get involved in the fight to support unhoused populations. UCP’s cleanup model is designed to bring in people from across racial, socioeconomic and professional demographics to spend time directly engaging with unhoused neighbors and learn from their experiences. A big reason society is able to neglect folks without basic shelter is that there are limited facilitated avenues for people from different walks of life to connect with one another. UCP is slowly working to dismantle these barriers.

On the last slide of the UCP event, Supriya and I highlighted a reality often easily overlooked at Haas — MBA students comprise an elite top percentile of U.S. society and are anticipated to have salaries that are multiple fold more than the average household income. With the privilege and resources Haasies have been afforded, they need to be diligent in remaining engaged on social issues that they otherwise may not be affected by. Further, in advancing change, Haasies must ensure they are centering the most impacted voices.

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Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL)

Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL)

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.