Dressed as an elf, holding a megaphone and standing on a boom lift, a landlord made an unusual offer on Friday at a homeless camp near a Home Depot in Oakland, California.
“Free money! Free money!” local developer Gene Gorelik told residents of the camp and activists assembled to support them, according to Vivian Ho, a reporter for The Guardian who live-tweeted the bizarre spectacle as it unfolded around 9 a.m.
Residents and their supporters, unimpressed with the stunt, chanted “housing is a human right, fight fight fight” in response and drove Gorelik away from the area, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The newspaper reported that police escorted Gorelik away “before he got the chance to turn on a leaf blower to shower them with cash.” Gorelik was sporting a “Make Oakland Great Again” hat and had people blowing up huge inflatable eagles, photos show.
None of the residents took Gorelik up on his offer to pay them $2,000 each to move out of the camp, Bay Area News Group reports.
“I think this is just to degrade us, honestly, to make us feel low,” said Maria Fuentes, a resident of the camp, according to the publication. “I don’t think he’s offering any kind of help.”
The Home Depot has been calling for the city to remove the make-shift communities of tents, vehicles and RVs that have sprung up in the area, Bay Area News Group reports. Oakland’s city council unanimously voted this week to block off a street near the encampment to keep people from accessing the area, KALW reports.
Gorelik’s Facebook event for the stunt was called “Operation Save Home Depot,” and in the event description he wrote that “Home Depot Oakland could be forced to close because it is under attack by Libbyland” — a reference to the city’s mayor, Libby Schaaf.
Home Depot spokeswoman Margaret Smith said Gorelik doesn’t have a relationship with the store, the Chronicle reported.
East Oakland Collective’s Facebook event for the counter-protest described Gorelik as a “notorious local slumlord and Trump supporter” who planned the stunt to “bully the curbside community at E. 8th Street and Alameda Ave.” The event description said “we are asking the community to stand together to protect our curbside communities against hate, xenophobia and anti-homeless behavior.”
Residents of the camp spoke up for themselves on Friday, too.
“We don’t bother anybody,” said 65-year-old Curtis James, who lives in a small home at the camp, according to the Chronicle. “There is no violence here. It’s just frustrating. It bothers me, but I just know I have to hold my ground and stay strong. It is what it is.”
But some have blamed crime and blight on the homeless encampments, with Oakland city councilman Noel Gallo telling KGO that “people are stealing their equipment, their materials, assaulting their customers.” The TV station reported that most of the encampment is on city land near the home improvement supply store.
Gallo said he’s worried the company will pack up and leave Oakland.
“The reality is, I don’t want to lose 200 to 300 jobs that are here at Home Depot,” Gallo told the TV station. “Those are entry-level jobs and if I lose Home Depot I’m going to have more people out on the street.”
Gorelik cited fears for his safety in declining to comment on the stunt, according to the Chronicle.