McKay neighbor shares


As a neighbor to Crab Cove and the abandoned federal buildings on McKay Avenue, I was excited to hear about the senior wellness center proposed for the site. When I taught in East Oakland, I gained a strong understanding of how homelessness harms children’s health, but before I moved to the Alameda’s West End, I had given little thought to another vulnerable group: seniors.

In the Bay Area, people lose housing for a variety of reasons; unfortunately, most of us could too easily see this happen to ourselves. In the early years of my teaching career, I struggled quite a bit financially. If housing prices had been as high as they are now, there’s a good chance I would have been homeless at some point, at least temporarily. 

Many of us have an idea that the unhoused are lazy, have addiction issues, or are dangerous. But, honestly, they’re just people like the rest of us. They’ve just had a run of bad luck, had trouble finding work (something that’s especially difficult for seniors) or don’t have a social safety net to fall back on.

My grandmother went through treatment for ovarian cancer in her 70s. I’m happy to say that she is still with us, healthy and cancer-free. But when I hear the arguments against this wellness center, I think of her and her struggle. She had insurance and a large, comfortable home to recover in; she didn’t lose her home or savings to medical costs. If she had already been unhoused or had lost her housing because she had to pay for treatment, it’s almost certain that she wouldn’t be alive today.

The site on McKay simply isn’t suitable for any kind of park or open space, as it consists of institutional buildings and concrete. A vote for the “open space” initiative will leave the property as it is: dark, unsafe and abandoned. 

But the location is perfect for a wellness center. It’s near major bus lines for transportation but also near a beautiful natural setting, which could promote healing. Turning it into a center will actually make it a safer place for me (and other Alamedans) to walk by, with lights, residents, staff and security, instead of darkness and abandoned buildings. 

As an educator, I’ve worked with many individuals and families who didn’t have stable housing. That’s a hard situation at any time, but when there’s a medical issue, it can be catastrophic. As a neighbor, I’m so happy that we may be able to help the most vulnerable at such a difficult time in their lives. As an Alamedan and a member of the human race, this center gives me hope that we can act compassionately.

I walk by this site every day, sometimes more than once. I look forward to the day it becomes a welcoming, healing place that allows seniors to face difficult, sometimes terminal diagnoses with comfort and grace. 


Bronwyn Harris