Leonard “Pumpkin” Ambrose lives just down the street from the house where he grew up. Derrick Soo lives 2 miles from his former family home, Delbra Taylor is a mile from hers and Gwyn Teninty can walk the distance in 15 minutes.

All four grew up here, in Oakland. And they succeeded in their own ways, each at one point owning a home, which was once considered the very foundation of financial stability. But now, as they grow older, they are among the surging number of unsheltered people who spill out around freeways, along train tracks and through vacant lots. The last biennial homeless count done in Oakland, in 2019, tallied 4,071 homeless people — a 47% rise from 2017 and the worst jump in the Bay Area.

The Chronicle spent five months shadowing Ambrose, Taylor, Teninty and Soo to better understand how residents with good jobs and deep roots in the community wind up among the city’s homeless population. Nearly 8 out of every 10 unhoused people in Oakland were living in Alameda County when they lost their housing.

About this project

For a sixth consecutive year, The Chronicle presents its Homeless Project, dedicated to examining and seeking solutions to a seemingly intractable problem made more acute by the pandemic. During the first five years, we focused primarily on the crisis in San Francisco, but this year we explore homelessness in Oakland through the experiences of four people who grew up there and owned homes, only to find themselves unhoused in their later…

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