Oakland queer youth space destroyed by fire
External imageThe windows are boarded up on the second floor of 1608 Webster Street in Oakland, which used to house the SMAAC center. (Photo: Elliot Owen) Officials at an Oakland queer youth space are frantically trying to find a new location after the building they had been using was destroyed by a fire.
The fire broke out in the morning hours of July 8 and displaced a gem of Oakland’s queer community known as SMAAC (Sexual Minority Alliance of Alameda County), a nonprofit, multi-service safe space and youth center serving primarily LGBTQ youth of color. The blaze consumed the 50,000 square foot building the organization occupied in downtown Oakland at 1608 Webster Street.
The building’s significant damage pales in comparison to the void left by SMAAC’s displacement, as it is the only organization of its kind in the East Bay. The agency offers HIV prevention education, case management, peer advocacy, mentoring, and a drop-in center to over 1,000 queer youth and young adults between the ages of 14-24 annually.
Two fires had previously occurred at the same address but had been deemed electrical in nature. This last fire, SMAAC Executive Director Roosevelt Mosby Jr. explained, was not only the worst but the only one that hasn’t been explained.
“This was the first fire that wasn’t obviously an electrical fire,” Mosby said. “While I’m not really sure what occurred because nobody was in the building, there is an allegation that the space was broken into.”
The building’s landlord filed a police report but no conclusion about the fire’s cause has been made. The Oakland Fire Department did not return a message about the status of the investigation.
Instead of waiting the 18 months it would take to restore the building to meet city code requirements, Mosby has started looking at other buildings in the downtown area and hopes to secure a new space for the 14-year-old organization by early August.
“I’ve got to get these kids into something as soon as possible,” Mosby said.