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How These Homeless Women Created a Safe Space in their Community

Named Fifth Street Natives for its location on Oakland, California’s Fifth Street, Nikki Cooper’s all-women homeless encampment continues to provide shelter and a safe space for homeless women in the neighborhood.


Located directly under the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in West Oakland, Fifth Street Natives is home to eleven women who were once living on the streets of Oakland. Since its establishment in 2018, the encampanet has housed a total of nineteen women, including its own founder, Nikki Cooper.


Cooper, a former drug addict, found herself on the streets after serving multiple jail sentences and losing countless jobs and housing opportunities. As she moved across the Bay Area, Cooper found solace in a community of other homeless women on West Oakland’s Fifth Street.


After a friend was sexually assaulted in the area, Cooper and four other women moved their few possessions to an adjacent sidewalk, where they used tarps to build the makeshift walls of what is now Fifth Street Natives. Their focus was to create a space where women could feel safe and protected from the dangers of living on the streets of urban cities. 


One of the other founders, Sandra Martin, believes that the companionship the women share is necessary for their survival. “Being a woman, being victimized by a man kind of empowered me little bit to embrace the fact that I’m a woman. And if that’s what a man’s gonna be, then I don’t need it,” she says.


The space spans across a few blocks and has bedrooms, a common area, a kitchen, and reinforced walls for weather protection. It also has a connective hallway through the center, where the women can pass each other and stop for conversation. On a day-to-day basis, Cooper and the other residents perform rudimentary household tasks, including dishwashing and sweeping. Throughout the space, Cooper has posted colorful signs with positive quotes to inspire the encampment’s residents.


While Fifth Street Natives has helped over a dozen women living on the streets, there is a chance that the encampment may soon close down, leaving Cooper and several others back on the Bay Area streets. Earlier this year, Cooper was informed that the city of Oakland planned to shut down fourteen homeless encampments, and Fifth Street Natives was unfortunately last on the list. 

Despite the uncertainty of Fifth Street Natives’ future, Cooper believes her destiny lies in continuing to work with Oakland’s homeless community and aiding others in finding homes. “I feel I’ve had a calling, and that is somehow to be ground zero for other homeless,” says Cooper. 

Featured Image by James Abbott on Flickr

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