When a disaster is going to destroy a community, we often have little warning — if any.
In this case, we have known since May: At the beginning of October, more than 50 people will lose their homes. Even with this much warning, no one has anywhere to go. These people don’t know what will happen to them, to their belongings or to their pets. No shelter has been made ready. Especially concerning are the prospects for those with severe disabilities — without shelter, they will be in severe danger.
Although a coastal community, the residents of the Albany Bulb are not threatened by tsunami or storm. The impending disaster is a mass demolition scheduled by their own city council. The council is under pressure from the Citizens for an East Shore State Park, the Sierra Club and other groups, who want the land restricted to recreational use only.
Neither Albany nor CESP will provide alternative housing. Albany does not have a homeless shelter, and there are not enough new homes to replace the ones they are taking away. Residents of the Bulb are about to be evicted without options in the middle of a national housing crisis.
Shelter is not a luxury. It is a bare requirement of life. Housing is listed in Article 25 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights — to take it away is a human rights violation. What the Bulb is providing for the poorest citizens of Albany is an absolute necessity, one that cannot be traded against more frivolous concerns. The Bulb is meeting a basic need that no other place is meeting.
The cultural and economic miracle of the Bulb is that it has managed to meet that need while supporting so many other uses. For the past 30 years, diverse functions have thrived together on the Bulb. It has been a refuge for those who were harassed out of other spaces. It has been a world-class park and a highly utilized recreational area. It has been a public art haven for extraordinary sculptures. It has been a tourist attraction for people from all over the globe. Reclaiming the site of a former landfill, the park has achieved all of this and provided a space for nature to flourish.
To those of us in the East Bay, that coexistence is what makes the Bulb a jewel of our shoreline. The freedom to make art and the freedom to seek shelter is what draws us there. They are something to be honored and defended. If we are to take recreation as a central value, let us acknowledge that the people and art of the Bulb make it a better place for recreation.
The Bulb clearly does much more than provide shelter to those in desperate need, but even that shelter is special. The Bulb is the Bay Area’s greenest neighborhood in terms of housing and energy use. Homes there are small and largely made from salvaged and local materials. Electricity use is minimal, powered by a few solar panels. People there live in balance with the local ecology, cleaning up the surface hazards that come with living on a former landfill. Among the wild trees, they have formed a sorely needed place of peace — a refuge, a sanctuary.
That peace is especially important to those who are most vulnerable. One resident notes that the Bulb is a safe space for her as a woman, because she lives among a community who will come anytime she calls out. That kind of community is hard to find anywhere and has taken years to build.
In one of the wealthiest regions in one of the world’s wealthiest nations, we have no need to make anyone homeless. More than 18 million homes in the U.S. stand vacant. That is enough to house every homeless person in this country many times over. There is a solution in Albany, and it begins by acknowledging that we can house everyone in our communities. Once that determination is made, it becomes clear that we must not destroy homes until that housing is available.
Share the Bulb is a group of Bulb residents and their allies. It is working to help Albany find the strength to halt the eviction until everyone is housed. On Sept. 3, its members marched to a meeting of the Albany City Council, at which dozens spoke against the planned demolition. The city voted against even delaying while housing alternatives are explored. It voted to deprive people of shelter just in time for the winter rains.
Even in the face of this vote, hope is not lost. The solution is out there. The City Council may change their vote and leave the Bulb open for all of us. The people of the East Bay may open their hearts and find a new place for those who live there. Share the Bulb is working hard for solutions, but time is running out. Help is desperately needed. Soon, disaster will strike this community of refugees, leaving them out in the cold.
Root Barrett is a member of Share the Bulb.