music in the park san jose

.The Hell that Grace Built

Some people take in stray dogs. Grace Mangrobang took in stray people.

Abraham Ruelas has lived and worked within several blocks of Grace Joy Lodge for 33 years, but until today he has never ventured up to its black wrought-iron gates. He stands out front, peering through the bars at the peculiarly castle-like building and its drab gray and white turrets. But that’s where the resemblance to anything regal ends, for seldom has a building’s name been so out of keeping with its reality as Grace Joy’s.

“There was usually a guy right there by the tree inside the gate, howling,” Ruelas says, pointing at a palm tree just inside the gate. “He did it in the morning, the afternoon. He would just howl and scream and wake us up sometimes.”

Neighbors didn’t need to get this close to the old boardinghouse to share in its misery. According to them, the behavior of its tenants ranged from the odd to the frightening. Ruelas resides in Oakland’s Fruitvale district just a few doors from these gates, and works as an administrator at Patten University, a small Christian college located a block away. On a short tour of the neighborhood, the 51-year-old points out the Quik Stop across the way where one Grace Joy resident chased him and his wife, Pat, after they refused to give her money. Over there is the corner where another resident known for propositioning neighborhood children would take off her pants. He waves a hand toward the railroad tracks where a lodge tenant had once dressed up in a makeshift uniform and attempted to direct traffic. Passing his own front porch, Ruelas indicates a cul-de-sac where a Grace Joy crew would camp out and drink. “They’d come up here and hang out at night,” he says. “They were supposed to be fed, but they were always aggressively panhandling, saying that they were hungry.”

The Patten campus also had experienced plenty of lodge-related incidents. There was the man who claimed to be Jesus and said he was searching the property for mushrooms, and the guy who showed up for a prayer meeting and ended up chasing another attendee through the building. One Grace Joy tenant stole copper pipe from a campus construction site, and another time, after a fire was set in the basement of the Patten faculty building, the first person who arrived to watch it burn — at five in the morning — was a Grace Joy renter. “We never could quite link it,” Ruelas laments.

He wasn’t the only one complaining. For years, neighbors and Oakland city employees have waged war on this dilapidated building, its troublesome tenants, and its owner, Grace Mangrobang. The lodge, they say, has been a neighborhood nuisance and epicenter for crime. It wasn’t so much that it catered to the down-and-out as that the troublemakers tended to be people with special needs that Mangrobang wasn’t, and isn’t, licensed to provide.

Technically just a room-and-board house, Mangrobang’s dilapidated castle attracted a clientele largely composed of substance abusers and the mentally ill. City staffers who sided with the neighbors say many of Mangrobang’s tenants were Alameda County conservatees — people under the county’s legal supervision — and were sent her way unofficially by staff and contractors of the county’s own public health system.

The lodge, and places like it, did help fulfill a need within the mental health community: It would take in people who didn’t need 24-7 supervision, but who weren’t really capable of independent living either. Yet while there are licensed board-and-care homes within the county equipped to deal with such clients, Grace Joy Lodge isn’t one of them.

Besides, what perhaps qualified as the county’s solution had turned into the city’s nightmare. Oakland planners and police and two area crime prevention councils have recorded extensive lists of problem behavior related to the lodge: girls followed home from school, women lewdly heckled by tenants, public urination and defecation, and petty theft from local merchants. Residents locked out after curfew would turn up at nearby homes begging for money or a place to stay, or would simply camp out in people’s yards. Neighbors say the lodge also provided a customer base for the local drug trade, a situation made ripe for trouble by the youth center across the street and senior home one block away. And Grace Joy tenants often roamed the neighborhood looking disoriented. “Either they were high because they were off their medication, or high because they were on drugs,” says Pat Ruelas, who joins her husband as the tour concludes on their front walkway.

After years of trying to convince Mangrobang to address the problems, the community had had enough. “Neighbors tried to say ‘Straighten up and fly right,’ but that hasn’t happened,” says Brendon Mulholland, chair of the Garfield crime prevention council. “Now we have to take a hard line and say ‘Get out. ‘”

Their complaints prompted a crackdown — a two-year investigation and inspection process led by the office of City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente — that uncovered extensive permit and building safety violations, enough for the city to temporarily shutter Grace Joy Lodge in January. For the next few months at least, the building will remain empty. Its lower windows are now covered with plywood, the fencing along one side topped with barbed wire. But if Mangrobang finishes the required repairs on schedule, she could reopen this spring, and all the old problems, neighbors fear, will return. Meanwhile, the decaying castle has come to symbolize a dire unsolved problem: a county mental health system too overburdened to ensure the well-being of its own clients, overseeing a highly vulnerable population that has no place to go.

Grace Joy Lodge wasn’t always a royal pain. Built in 1906, it was luxurious at the time and is still considered a landmark-quality structure, at least from the outside. “It was a great old respectable hotel,” says Oakland case planner Chris Candell, who prepared the Community and Economic Development Agency’s staff report on the lodge. “If you had just come into town years ago, you would have found this place and lived there — it would have given you time to search for a job and get yourself established.”

Over the years the building deteriorated, morphing from hotel to boardinghouse and then slowly taking on substance abusers, parolees, and indigent mental patients as tenants. Mangrobang’s late husband, Francisco, originally managed the property, which the couple purchased in 1982. They divorced in 1997, and Brian Ching, Grace’s attorney, says Francisco took a saboteur’s approach to dividing the assets. “He took the position that if she was going to divorce him he wanted all their properties to go down the drain,” he says. Francisco, however, died soon after, and Grace became the establishment’s sole proprietor. Mangrobang is in her sixties and, according to Ching, suffers from heart problems — he speculates that maintaining a building populated by mentally ill renters was simply too much for someone in her condition.

It’s unclear what shape the building was in before the Mangrobangs’ divorce, but by the time the city launched its inspections in 2002, Grace Joy was rife with problems. The fire department logged 23 code violations and the city’s Building Services Division found another 18.

To begin with, Grace Joy was overcrowded. Mangrobang allegedly rented out 44 rooms, although she had only 36. Over the years an office, supply closets, part of the basement, and a sunroom all had been illegally converted into extra sleeping quarters. Nearly all of the building’s systems were worn to the point of dysfunction: heating, plumbing, wiring, fire sprinklers. Drains and toilets were clogged, and there were rodent droppings scattered about.

A series of Polaroids snapped by inspectors show spaghetti tangles of electrical wires protruding from the basement ceiling, stacks of ratty mattresses, rooms filled with debris, and places where huge chunks of drywall are missing from walls and ceilings, leaving the raw framing exposed. More appalling were the photos of a bucket of urine and dozens of milk cartons and plastic bags full of human waste. Although inspectors documented a shortage of working restrooms, they acknowledge that the waste problem may have been caused by mentally ill renters who refused to leave their rooms to use the toilet.

The same year the investigation took place, four former Grace Joy residents filed a class-action suit on behalf of all of the building’s recent tenants. The suit — which hasn’t yet been resolved — backs up all the inspectors’ findings and throws in a few more: broken windows, lack of hot water, and roaches. Conditions were so bad, plaintiffs claim, that they should have their rent refunded, along with compensation for “physical, nervous, and psychological pain” suffered during their stays. The suit claims that the plaintiffs are all “disabled persons who have physical or mental limitations that restrict their ability to carry on normal activities or to protect their rights,” and that Mangrobang breached her obligation to provide adequate care and housing.

The city had additional concerns. Oakland bureaucrats say Mangrobang illegally transformed the lodge from a simple boardinghouse into what the city calls “service-enriched” housing that provided social services to special-needs clients. To run a service-enriched establishment, you must have a city conditional use permit, a state license, and a trained staff; submit to regular inspections; and abide by strict regulations. In both 2001 and 2002, inspectors dispatched from the California Department of Social Services concluded that Mangrobang was operating a residential care facility in violation of state law. “Grace has a mission,” says city planner Candell. “She has a desire to help these people, but in helping them she kind of stepped over the line from being a just a room-and-board place to providing services. So at some point she created something we could regulate.”

Technically, Mangrobang was supposed to be offering renters nothing more than a room, a weekly change of bed linen, and two meals a day. But the city and the state allege she was supplying three additional services — most notably dispensing her tenants’ medications, which is illegal without a license. Attorney Ching contends that the city is exaggerating the extent of it. “They would receive medication sometimes through the mail, so they were maintaining that she was dispensing meds by dispensing the mail,” he says.

But Carlos Plazola, the De La Fuente aide who coordinated the city’s investigation, says it wasn’t that innocent. State employees, he claims, told Mangrobang she could circumvent licensing regulations on medication distribution if she didn’t literally place the drugs in someone’s hand. “They told her, ‘Why don’t you cut a hole in the door and you can put it through the door?'” Plazola says. Indeed, the inspectors’ photos reveal eyeball-level slots — cited by the city as a fire hazard — cut into some of the doors.

In addition, both city and state claimed Mangrobang was cashing government checks for her residents, subtracting the rent, and returning the balance to them — actions that would constitute managing tenant finances, which is also verboten. And finally, city staffers claimed in a report to the planning commission that “this facility contains a high number of residents who need voluntary support for mental health and substance abuse.” That Mangrobang was allowing on-site visits from doctors, psychiatrists, and social workers seemed to confirm that her renters had special needs for continuing care, and had in fact been referred there by county mental health employees and contractors because the lodge provided ready access to these services.

In a letter to the state in 2001, Mangrobang denied administering medication and specified that her lodge was only for adults who were “functionally independent.” Nevertheless, city documents claim it wasn’t until December 2002, when the state sent a second letter warning, that the owner stopped cashing checks and sealed up the slots in the doors.

Likewise, Mangrobang at first insisted she was running an ordinary rooming house. Last April, she tried to appeal the Oakland Planning Commission’s decision that she was providing service-enriched housing and therefore required a license. After the commissioners shot down her appeal, Mangrobang changed tactics: Her lawyer says she approached a local mental health services provider about running a joint venture that would operate under the provider’s existing license. Those negotiations went nowhere, and a month later Mangrobang applied for a city permit that would let her legally operate service-enriched housing. The improvements she proposed, however, were so marginal, and her ability to follow through on them so hotly contested by the neighbors, that the commissioners rejected the plan.

But preventing the landlady from cashing checks and dispensing drugs didn’t necessarily help the neighborhood. On the contrary, neighbors say, without anyone ensuring Grace Joy renters were taking their medications, the tenants’ behavior became more erratic than ever. In the first half of last year, the OPD logged 54 lodge-related calls for police services including assault with a deadly weapon, battery, disturbing the peace, and calls for psychiatric evaluations and medical emergencies. Police incident reports from 2001 and 2002 describe an occupant wandering into traffic trying to get hit, another one attacking a fellow resident with a metal pipe, a tenant who threatened passersby with a knife, and several who sold crack cocaine to undercover cops. In ten of the incidents, the resident’s failure to take medication is noted — nine cases resulted in a resident being taken by ambulance to the county’s psychiatric hospital. And, according to police reports, in 2001 one resident died in bed of unexplained causes.

Grace Joy Lodge was as notorious with the cops as it was with the neighbors. “It was a big drain on police services as well as resources from [ambulance company] American Medical Response and the fire department for any medical calls,” says Officer Kami Jackson, the OPD’s problem-solving officer for the neighborhood. “There are other facilities in the area that house people with mental issues or drug problems, and we don’t get that many calls from those facilities.”

The city finally had enough evidence to take action. Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency declared Grace Joy a public nuisance in January 2003 and issued a notice to vacate the building. Mangrobang appealed and lost. However, the city agreed to let the renters stay if the owner entered into a pact to correct the problems. She had until last September to address the fire code and building safety violations; as collateral, she put down a $50,000 certificate of deposit made out to the city.

By November’s end, with the repairs long overdue, the city suspended all of her building permits and reactivated the order to vacate. Mangrobang tried to get a restraining order that would allow her tenants to remain in the building, but no dice. In January, a full year after the city first ordered Grace Joy emptied, the tenants finally had to clear out.

If Grace Joy Lodge was unlicensed, notoriously scuzzy, and engaged in lengthy zoning and building-code battles with the city, why did county agencies refer vulnerable mental-health clients there?

It’s a tricky question, Plazola says, because for years the county had denied its conservatees were there at all. “We began to understand we were working against the state and county on this one,” he says. “We didn’t realize to what extent we were working against the county until six months ago when we got an anonymous call from Highland Hospital saying a Grace Joy resident who was a county conservatee was at the hospital because she had been assaulted by another resident.”

This was the proof the city needed. De La Fuente’s office called a meeting with county representatives to discuss how conservatees were ending up at Grace Joy. According to court documents submitted by Plazola in January, Thomas Walker, housing coordinator for county Behavioral Health, conceded that 70 percent of Grace Joy’s tenants were county conservatees and another 15 percent were conservatees of county-contracted firms such as Telecare Corporation.

According to Plazola’s declaration to the court, Walker agreed that all county conservatees would be removed from the building by last November, yet by the end of the month none had been moved. When the city posted its notice to vacate in December, 18 of the 38 people still living at the lodge were county conservatees. The county finally managed to place them in alternative housing before Grace Joy was shuttered.

County officials play it coy when asked how their conservatees ended up at Grace Joy. Every agency that reportedly referred clients there echoes the line given by Alameda County Health Care Services director Dave Kears: “We don’t formally place in unlicensed facilities, but that doesn’t mean they’re unused,” he says. “Staff would presumably keep a list of relatively low-cost housing available, and those clients who didn’t want to take on placement in a more organized, supervised area would potentially negotiate on their own. The conservator would be obliged to send the check there, but that’s about it.”

In other words, although no one “officially” assigned clients to Grace Joy, the county simply presented the lodge as an option. City planner Chris Candell says the manner in which this was suggested could be subtle: “‘I know a place that might be suited for you. It’s a room-and-board place, they’ll change your room once a week and give you some food, and there’s a lot of people like you there.’ That might be all you have to say.”

And although Grace Joy’s neighbors have frequently demanded to know why the county didn’t do more to protect mental-health clients if the lodge was known to be problematic, Kears responds that they didn’t have much of a choice. Patients have the right to refuse treatment and to choose where they live. After all, the people who ended up at Grace Joy weren’t seriously ill enough to warrant 24-hour care or locked facilities. They prefer to live in places like Grace Joy Lodge, county staffers say, because they are relatively unsupervised there and aren’t forced to attend counseling. Also because Grace Joy wasn’t offering special programs, it could offer lower rent than licensed facilities. “A lot of adult clients don’t want to give 90 percent of their income to a licensed, supervised facility, so they would prefer marginalized housing and the freedom it brings,” Kears says.

Plazola believes Grace Joy’s low rent gave the county a reason to refer patients there. “The utility for the county is it’s cheaper” than placing clients in a full-service institution, he says. “The problem is, this means that the cost to the society of having a lot of these folks living in the same place is passed on to the nearby residents.”

And because Grace Joy was unlicensed, the county had no means of enforcing quality control — there was no license it could threaten to revoke, after all. “We have no authority over them one way or another,” Kears contends. Last year, he notes, when the county sent in its own staff to review the lodge, they could do no more than cajole Mangrobang to make improvements and offer to help willing clients move out. But if people wanted to stay, the county couldn’t prevent it. “If you can’t get them to move to a better place or improve the place they’re living in, you still have to provide them services,” he says.

Shea Tokar, spokeswoman for county health contractor Telecare, also says her company’s staff might suggest housing options, but the decision was ultimately the client’s: “Our job is to support the housing of their choice.” Fewer than ten of Telecare’s clients lived at Grace Joy, she says, and the company stopped referring them there two years ago after receiving a report on the lodge’s electrical and heating shortfalls. In all cases, she says, “the boardinghouse was an appropriate level of care” for those clients’ mental-health needs.

But lawyer Ching wonders whether some of Grace Joy’s tenants were as capable of independent living as the county claimed. “[The county is] partially responsible for the problems Grace has been blamed for,” he says. “The people that have deemed these people capable of independent living and referred them there and paid her to have them there — what responsibility do they have for the people they sent there?”

In the county’s defense, it must serve multitudes with very few housing resources. According to Gary Spicer, information systems analyst for county Behavioral Health Services, Alameda County serves about 29,000 individual mental-health and substance-abuse clients a year. Of those, about 15,000 are seriously and persistently mentally ill, and the county estimates it is serving only about a quarter of the people that truly require its mental health services.

This demand for special-needs housing coincides with a drop-off in supply. According to Walker, the Behavioral Health housing coordinator, the number of licensed board-and-care facilities in the county has dropped over the past six or seven years from about 300 to 65. Each facility has an average of ten beds, and a total of 650 beds for the sort of semifunctional clients Grace Joy took in isn’t nearly enough. Walker expects the numbers will continue to drop as board-and-care operators, many of them elderly, call it quits. Few new facilities are expected to take their place because of the high operating costs and low profit margins of running a home for mental patients or drug addicts. Some existing homes, county staffers say, have been converted to house the developmentally disabled because the state pays a higher rate for their care.

In the meantime, Spicer says, the need is enormous. “If you can carve out a few rooms and you are willing to take persons with these kinds of adverse traits they’re going to present to you, you’re going to have demand,” he says. “You don’t even have to put the sign out, because these folks need places to live. If you build it, they will come.”

Walker points out that it’s already difficult enough to find decent housing in the East Bay if you live on SSI or disability. “Looking for an apartment with an income of under $600 a month is a daunting task,” he says. “It’s not like you have a choice of Piedmont or Walnut Creek. Usually it’s neighborhoods that are challenged economically and socially.” And while Grace Joy Lodge was hardly the Ritz, he adds, “From my own personal inspection, there are a lot of other places worse than that.”

Everyone, of course, blames the old cash-flow problem. Supervisor Keith Carson, whose district includes Grace Joy Lodge and whose staff has inspected the property, points out that the county has lost $1.9 billion in government funds over the past decade, resulting in the termination of more than three thousand county jobs. This, he says, has curtailed the county’s ability to head off problems with housing for the mentally ill before they reach the crisis stage. “What we would like to have the ability to do is be proactive, to go out in a timely manner and visit facilities, check on the people who are there, have community meetings to try to keep issues at bay,” he says. “The reality is you have more people standing at the door of these agencies asking for service and we have fewer employees to take those requests and process them.”

Some relief may be in sight: The surprise passage of Measure A last week will inject an additional $90 million annually into the county public health system. But much of that money will be needed to fund critical trauma services, key medical clinics, and preventive care. It’s too early to say how much might be left over for the type of preemptive problem-solving Carson envisions.

In the meantime, county officials know that landlords will continue to rent dilapidated housing to the county’s mentally ill. “Some people really do try their best, but for the most part they’re just in it to fill a bed,” Kears says. “There’s a market for that, the same as there’s a market for bad hotels or sleazy SROs. I understand the desire to close them down, but what do you have left when you close them down? The streets.”

Plazola counters that Alameda County officials are just making excuses for not having done the right thing in the first place. “A lot of them will say to you, ‘I have to choose between putting someone in a bad facility and making them homeless,'” he says. “On the other hand, they didn’t seem to have a problem placing thirty people when we busted Grace Joy, so why couldn’t they have put them in the first place in these facilities where they ended up placing them? My guess is it’s more an issue of convenience.”

If Grace Joy Lodge is a sort of weird neighborhood castle, Grace Mangrobang is its mysterious queen, with a notoriety based on fabulous rumors and equally fantastical facts. Few of her neighbors in the Fruitvale area claim to have spoken with her outside of community meetings, yet it seems everyone who has crossed paths with the lodge has strong feelings about the lady and why she ran her realm as she did. Some see her as bent on a mission of mercy, albeit a poorly executed one. Others maintain she was crassly taking money from the disabled and providing little in return. When contacted by phone for this story, Mangrobang offered just one sentence before hanging up: “My vision was to help people, but it’s like that saying: ‘Not in my neighborhood. ‘”

It’s true that the neighborhood around the lodge is changing. Largely single-family homes and retail businesses, it has recently become home to what Ken Lupoff, president of the neighborhood’s other crime prevention council, calls “a growing contingent of us young professional types.” Attendance is way up at the crime prevention meetings, and residents have been working to improve their homes and the local shopping corridor.

“This area has beautiful Queen Anne cottages, Victorian homes, that one by one are getting flipped,” Brendon Mulholland concurs. “They’ve been neglected for fifteen, twenty years, but suddenly there’s a house on every block that’s getting fixed up. We’re looking to get good retail on 23rd Avenue. We don’t just want a 99-cent store — we want a reputable coffee shop or something like that.”

Many Fruitvale residents feel the district already hosts a disproportionate number of county social service centers, including medical and rehab clinics — a recent proposal by Telecare to open a psychiatric inpatient facility not far from Grace Joy is a hot local issue right now. “We as a neighborhood feel a little dumped on by all these facilities,” Lupoff says.

Yet in truth, Kears says, nobody wants a home for the mentally ill around, even when it’s licensed and well-run. “It’s almost impossible to open a mental-health facility anywhere,” he says, sighing. County officials point out that the people Grace Joy’s neighbors are complaining about are, in fact, their neighbors. “For the most part, they’re not transplanted from outside the community. They don’t migrate there,” Keith Carson says. “They’re products of the community and are an outgrowth of the systematic problems that urban communities are having.”

Mangrobang’s lawyer understands where the NIMBYism might come from. “Maybe the area is no longer appropriate for something like that — there’s a lot of kids there or more businesses or whatever,” Ching concedes. “But of course nobody wants to say ‘I don’t want mentally disturbed people in my community.'” And while Ching readily concedes that his client was running a business, not a charity, he also credits her with generous motivations. She was a “stray dog person,” the lawyer says, and couldn’t resist taking people in. “She views this as her life’s work.”

Indeed, Mangrobang was known for touting her good deeds whenever her critics put the screws on her at community gatherings. “She would come to meetings and say it constantly: ‘These people are my friends; I dedicate my life to them,'” Plazola recalls. “She would say, ‘No one else wants them. I care for them. ‘”

But instead of admitting they didn’t want the mentally ill around, Ching says, the neighbors targeted Mangrobang. “They vilify Grace. They say it’s her fault for not taking care of them properly, and whether or not that would make a difference we really don’t know,” the lawyer contends. “But she’s attempted to respond — perhaps too late — to these complaints, and her position hasn’t been one of defiance.”

It is true that Mangrobang has largely complied with the city’s demands. According to Oakland Building Services staff, she had completed 95 percent of the mandated repairs as of February. She spent more than $100,000 on top of her $50,000 collateral, Ching says. Ironically, the city’s mass eviction made the castle far easier to repair, since the tenants and their possessions were no longer in the way, he says.

Lupoff and other neighbors claim they were motivated by concern for her tenants. “The issue was really that the people deserve the care they need for humanitarian reasons, so they can get better,” he says.

Take the howling guy who could be heard six houses away with the door shut. “This man must be in some kind of pain,” Pat Ruelas remembers thinking. “If [Grace] truly cared about these people, she would have taken care of their emotional needs.”

But when the neighbors complained to Mangrobang about the need for better care, Pat recalls, the owner would scold them to be more tolerant. “Instead, she would tell the neighborhood groups that you need to take them out for a hamburger. They needed something more than just a hamburger,” she says drily.

“She would try to paint us as the uncaring cruel people that just didn’t care for them and she was Mother Teresa and stuff,” her husband adds.

Mangrobang’s critics also point out that the owner seemed to profit in a distinctly un-Teresa-like manner and should have been able to keep the place in shape. “By rough calculation, we can’t figure out why she isn’t rolling in dough,” Candell says. “The amounts of money these people were giving her is substantial. It’s not like there’s a big capital outlay to staff Grace Joy.”

At its maximum, the owner’s staff was three people: Grace, a handyman, and a security guard. By Plazola’s calculation, minus mortgage payments, Mangrobang was probably grossing between $15,000 and $20,000 a month. “I think Grace Mangrobang was doing this because she was getting a lot of revenue from it, not because she cared about those folks,” he says.

So what next for the castle? Since Mangrobang still has her $50,000 at stake, some of her foes worry that she’ll reopen the lodge. She has until April 30 to finish the remaining few repairs and pass inspections, although she will have to apply for a new city permit to run it as a rooming house rather than a service-enriched facility. But since she previously rented her “rooming house” to special-needs clients, her opponents wonder if history won’t simply repeat. “Our concern is she’ll just start bringing some of the same folks back in,” Plazola says.

Grace Joy’s neighbors have vowed to be vigilant. “We’ll be right on her tail,” Mulholland promises. “She’s either going to be accountable or we’re going to continue to cause her problems.”

But Ching indicates that his client seems worn down by the struggle, and that the closure of the lodge in January was a significant blow to her. “I tell her she’s getting older and it’s really hard on her,” he says. “Those people are really not easy to deal with. Maybe it’s time for somebody else to do it.”

The lawyer adds that Mangrobang is thinking about selling the building and has spoken with a prospective buyer, but hasn’t yet made any decisions. For the county, the lodge’s closure would be a mixed blessing. “What happened with Grace Joy Lodge may be a good thing,” Walker says, “but it’s another loss of some forty beds for very-low-income individuals.”

That certainly wouldn’t prevent some other like-minded operator from stepping in to fill the gap. As Spicer puts it: “Right now the fact of the matter is the demand is so high and supply so low, of course there are going to be places like Grace Joy Lodge.”

Oakland city staffers recognize that Grace Joy’s relatively large size and the vigilance of its neighbors prodded the government to action, whereas smaller, possibly worse, facilities fly below the radar. “There are a number of places like this all over the city,” Candell says. “We don’t even have a handle on all of them.”

For now, though, the neighbors are enjoying their state of Gracelessness. None of them knows where the tenants have gone, nor how they’re faring. But while the streets outside the lodge are still filled with loiterers, and the drug dealers are still there, things are better now, they say. Nobody howls beneath the trees, and no one has been chased home from the Quik Stop recently. Pat Ruelas glances up the block towards the castle. With a satisfied look, she delivers her verdict: “It’s been so quiet.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

East Bay Express E-edition East Bay Express E-edition
music in the park san jose