Despite its good-faith effort to connect Albany Bulb residents with much-needed mental health and relocation services, Albany City Council’s decision to dismantle the Bulb’s encampment has contributed to what has become a worrying Bay Area trend: de facto criminalization of homelessness.
On Wednesday, Albany City Council agreed to a settlement in which they will evict the homeless residents of the Bulb, a waterfront park that has served as a haven for the city’s homeless for decades. The city will compensate 28 of the Bulb’s proven longtime residents — some of whom have lived there for years — with $3,000 in exchange for leaving. The city considers the debris at the park a hazard for nearby residents who use it for recreation and seeks to make the space more inviting.
But the real cost of improving the park for hikers and dog-walkers isn’t financial. Evicting the Bulb’s homeless residents — which averages about 60 — will only push them out of one space and into others. Even with the compensation, some of these people will still have nowhere to go, and some simply don’t want to leave, regardless of whether they can afford housing.
By evicting the Bulb’s homeless, Albany City Council is prioritizing the leisure and recreation of the many at the expense of the fundamental needs of the few. And while the council’s contention that debris at the park present a safety hazard is up for debate, the Bulb doesn’t seem to foster the amount of crime that its Berkeley counterpart, People’s Park, does.
The eviction also contributes to a troubling trend of criminalization of homelessness in the Bay Area. In Berkeley, Measure S sought to ban sitting or lying on the sidewalk in a thinly veiled attempt to kick the homeless out of the city. Though that effort was thankfully voted down in 2012, Palo Alto recently made it illegal for anyone to live in their car. With increasing property values in San Francisco and elsewhere, there are fewer and fewer suitable places for the Bay Area homeless to live.
To its credit, the Albany City Council is doing more than other similar localities to ensure Albany’s homeless population is treated fairly. In addition to compensating some of the Bulb’s longtime residents, it is continuing the city’s one-year contract with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to help Albany’s homeless residents struggling with mental disabilities or drug addiction find housing, jobs and services for the homeless.
Albany should not try to beautify its city in an apparent effort to raise property values at the expense of its most vulnerable residents. The way it has dealt with homeless residents of the Bulb could have been worse, but its plan to evict them still reveals a troubling lack of consideration for the diversity of the city’s residents, some of whom chose to be homeless, and most of whom have been unable to avoid it.