CREDIT: Bay Area News Group
For years, dozens of poor California residents have set up camp on a landfill in the San Francisco Bay, creating their own small tent community where they could rest their heads in peace.
That is, until the eviction notice came this week.
On Tuesday, the City Council of Albany, a city just north of Berkeley, voted 4-1 to begin enforcing an anti-camping ordinance on the Albany Bulb, a small offshoot in the San Francisco Bay that 61 people call home. Police will start enforcing the measure on October 1.
Though the City Council appropriated $30,000 to help Bulb residents find permanent supportive housing in the area, none exists in Albany. “There’s no public housing in Albany, no available low-income housing, not even a homeless shelter,” Bob Offer-Westort, a volunteer with the advocacy organization Share the Bulb. “There are no homeless services, period, in Albany.” Tuesday’s vote, in essence, won’t just kick the Bulb community out of their home; it will kick them out of the city as well.
The vote came amid protests from Bulb residents and their supporters, who marched to City Hall in protest of the proposed plan. The council had first moved to evict Bulb residents in May, a move they reaffirmed this week.
The city plans to transform the space into part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, which stretches along the bay all the way down to Oakland.
For years, homeless people in the area had been told by authorities to go set up camp on the jetty. When police found homeless people living on the streets of Albany, they would often direct them to the Bulb, since it was unused and out of sight. But soon, a community developed. “We’ve grown happy being exiles out here,” 32-year-old Amber Whitson, who has lived on the Bulb for seven years, told the San Jose Mercury News. A disproportionate number of Bulb residents are women; it’s safer to live there than on the streets.
Residents of the Bulb have built a community that stretches back to the early 1990s, immortalized in the 2003 documentary “Bums’ Paradise“. Now, with a countdown clock on their lemons-to-lemonade community, residents are left in a state of flux. “It’s hard to imagine anything, anywhere that people go will be worse than the place where they’re stable,” Offer-Westort said. “People don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Albany isn’t the only city that’s taken steps recently to ship its homeless population out of town. Columbia, SC recently approved a measure to criminalize homelessness in its downtown area, effectively exiling homeless people to the margins of town. In addition, this year, Hawaii and Baton Rouge, LA joined a host of other localities that offer homeless people one-way tickets out of town.