The Albany Bulb, a piece of land jutting into the bay north of the Berkeley Marina, has been many things: a landfill, a park, an art installation and, dating back to the 1990s, a home for those without one.
Yet, in a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, Albany City Council reaffirmed its May decision to remove encampments from the Albany Bulb and approved funding for a Berkeley homelessness outreach group to help those who reside at the end of the peninsula.
There are no homeless shelters in Albany. At Tuesday’s meeting the council renewed a $30,000 contract with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to provide support and help secure housing for Albany Bulb residents through the end of the year. So far, the organization has been unable to find housing for any residents.
“The city is not offering any real alternatives,” said Bob Offer-Westort, a volunteer with Share the Bulb, an advocacy organization. “Removing these people will not solve homelessness.”
One of the major impediments to securing housing for the Albany Bulb community is that there is a shortage of affordable housing in Albany and Berkeley, said Andrew Franklin, director of City Mission within Solano Community Church, which has been working with the project.
In Berkeley, low-income housing is in high demand. Although a waitlist exists, it often takes years to get off of it, Franklin said. Other possible sites for relocation include parts of Richmond and Oakland, but Albany Bulb residents worry these locations may be too unsafe, he said.
“Everybody knows and respects each other,” said Christine Rose, who has been living at the Albany Bulb for three years. “As a woman, I feel safer (being) here and homeless than I would if I had a house.”
One of the City Council’s goals is to have the city-owned area incorporated into a state park, said Nicole Almaguer, public information officer for the city of Albany.
There are specific regulations California state parks must follow, however, including a prohibition of camping without authorization. Despite the city’s attempt to remove homeless encampments in 1999, people have continued to live there.
“I have empathy for those in need living at the Albany Bulb,” said Patricia Jones, executive director of Citizens for East Shore Parks, which supports the park coming under state control. “But the current City Council recognizes it needs an endpoint to provide housing and other services to this homeless population and to return the park to the whole public.”
Amy St. George, an Albany resident, says many are not able to use the Albany Bulb in its current form. She called the Bulb “unsafe” and “unsanitary.”
“The homeless people have their own personal guard dogs,” George said. “We go hiking at the Berkeley Marina now because it’s more family-friendly.”
While the Berkeley Food and Housing Project hopes to help Albany Bulb residents find permanent housing, its larger goal is to provide outreach and support.
“Albany needs to wait until it can come up with real solutions,” Franklin said. “But at the same time, there is no running water, people are getting sick and they can’t take care of themselves.”