No one who lives in Oakland will be at all surprised that yet another homeless camp built next to Lake Merritt caught fire and burned spectacularly this afternoon. For several months, this rude hut made of rubbery-plastic mats had been there, just beside the pedestrian bridge over the Lake Merritt Drain. Even this morning one of the squatters there was out cutting and clearing the brush beside the hut.

When it burned, a plume of acrid smoke — melted plastic — filled the air, and my apartment. Seven or eight police cars and a fire engine were required to put out the blaze and control pedestrian traffic past it. How much of Oakland’s meager tax money did that cost? The city cannot afford it. But, until the fire, nothing was done to get rid of the camp, or the many others within a hundred yards of this one. In fact, workers from city-paid nonprofits regularly delivered food and tents to the campers.

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