by Lydia Gans
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he City of Albany’s deadline for the threatened eviction of the homeless people camped at the Albany Bulb is drawing closer with no sign of relief in sight. The plan is to transfer the Bulb to the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) which does not permit overnight camping.
The eviction is scheduled to take effect in the middle of October. It would mean that about 60 people who have been living at the Bulb will be made homeless. City officials remain determined to expel all the homeless camp-dwellers, even though Albany has no homeless shelters, and no real plans to provide replacement housing for the displaced homeless people.
The Albany Bulb is located at the west end of the Albany peninsula, a former landfill for concrete and construction debris. The EBRPD is already exercising its control over the area leading up to the Albany Bulb. For the first time, there is a large East Bay Regional Park District sign at the beginning of the parking lot.
Heavy equipment has demolished the lush vegetation on the Neck and the Plateau. A notice posted there explains that the EBRPD will be working there through October to clear the area and “establish coastal grassland.”
The City of Albany has failed or refused to create a single shelter bed or unit of affordable housing for homeless people in the past 20 years of dealing with a large homeless encampment at the Albany Bulb. City officials now have turned the problem over to Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP), allotting $30,000 for a “Homeless Outreach and Engagement Program within the City.” (While the focus of this plan is on the campers on the Bulb, homeless people throughout the city are included.)
The agreement calls for the BFHP to connect with the individual campers, assess their immediate and long-term needs, and inform them of the various resources available in the community.
As for housing, the program calls for helping people “develop plans” for finding permanent or temporary housing. Nothing is said about actually placing people in housing or finding any kind of shelter for homeless people when they are evicted.
Although BFHP has experience in finding affordable housing, there is clearly no way they could be expected to find housing for more than 60 displaced people in the immediate future. Many of the people living at the Albany Bulb have been homeless for several years, some are disabled, some have pets, and about half have no income.
BFHP workers go out to the Albany Bulb on Tuesdays and Thursdays to talk with the campers, connect them with services and take them to meet what might be a potential housing opportunity. By September, no one had been housed.
At its meeting on September 3, the Albany City Council voted to renew the contract with BFHP for another $30,000. Now, with little time left, BFHP is in a “final push” to urge campers to work out options such as reuniting with their family, or moving into some sort of transitional housing. The City of Albany, however, has utterly nothing to offer the homeless people it intends to evict.
Pressure on the campers is increasing. There is a move to enforce a nighttime curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., apparently based on an ordinance covering all park property. This unfairly affects the campers since the only access to the Bulb is through the area already under EBRPD control.
Camper Amber Whitson reports that she was stopped coming home from the Target store after 10 p.m. one evening and warned that curfew violators could be taken to jail. It’s not clear if others are being stopped or if the Park police are temporarily backing off.
Along with publicity about the incorporation of the Albany Bulb into the regional park system, news of the threatened eviction of the campers has been spreading. People who walk the trails, or who take their dogs for an outing, love the Bulb the way it is, and they are objecting.
For the campers, the Albany Bulb is their home, their community, their village. It is where they keep all the necessities of daily living, as well as their personal treasures — more than can fit in a shopping cart if they were to become homeless. For many of them, the Albany Bulb is a place where they can live close to nature and have the sense of freedom that is most important to them.
Louis and Sharon built themselves a wonderful shelter under a tree, with the bedroom on an upper level enveloped by the tree’s branches while giving them a glorious view of the Bay. To have to give this up and end up homeless or move into a cramped shelter or slum hotel would be devastating.
Jimbow has been living at the Albany Bulb off and on since the 1990s. His home is also a free lending library — one of the popular attractions on the Bulb. Jimbow was housed at one time, but after a year he moved back out to the Bulb. He couldn’t live like that, he said, when all he saw when he looked out the window were the walls of adjoining houses.
Amber Whitson had chronic health problems before she moved to the Bulb seven years ago. She says, “My health has gotten better since I lived here and that is amazing to me.”
Five-year camper Tom has some income but says it is “not nearly enough to pay rent and leave anything else to live on.” He devotes time each day to clearing away metal and the big pieces of concrete left around where people walk.
Other campers plant seeds and grow plants. They haul out their garbage and carry in their water — all with no help from the city.
The threatened eviction and the campers’ plight has been getting considerable attention in the local media and is generating public sympathy. When Albany officials extended the contract with BFHP, campers and supporters held a protest march to the City Council meeting on Spetember 3. The press began to seriously pay attention.
Concerned people from the community began to get together and organize supportive actions. A group from Solano Community Church and friends went up and down Solano Avenue making chalk drawings on the sidewalks promoting the campers’ message: “Share the Bulb.” That message is the title of the supporters’ website sharethebulb.org.
There have been community discussions and showings of Andy Kraemer’s film, “Where Do You Go When It Rains.” An Oakland community center held a film screening and a discussion of the issues, and a sociology class at U.C. Berkeley will hold a panel discussion on the topic.
On Saturday, September 28, a community Gathering to Defend the Albany Bulb at the main entry to the park was organized. There was a potluck supper amply supplied by Food Not Bombs, Occupy Oakland and other groups, followed by a lively discussion session. On Tuesday, October 2, a Solidarity Campout at the Bulb is planned.
Still, Albany officials are not relenting in their determination to cast the campers out, even though it would be a practical disaster as well as a moral outrage.
Only one person has found housing. For the others, this mass expulsion will mean a succession of temporary shelters or life on the streets. Even for those with some income, anything affordable is likely to be small and dark and not necessarily safe.
All this doesn’t have to happen. There are alternatives. It is good to remember Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well being … including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…”