Remaining homeless residents of former landfill arrested Thursday

Carlos Caceres/File

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The last two people living at the Albany Bulb, a former landfill that has been used as a homeless encampment, were arrested Thursday after a settlement in April that emptied the Bulb of most of its homeless population.

Police arrested Bulb residents Amber Whitson and Philip Lewis, along with their friend Erik Eisenberg, on suspicion of illegal lodging. The city began enforcing a no-camping ordinance in October in an effort to relocate the homeless population so that the Bulb can be turned into a state park. Local law firms then filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the residents, which ended in an April settlement that gave residents $3,000 each as long as they agreed to leave the Bulb by April 25 and stay away from the area for one year.

Twenty-eight residents accepted the money, but Whitson and Lewis refused it, making them the last to leave the Bulb. The two have lived in the Bulb for seven years.

“We didn’t take the money because you can’t buy someone’s home,” Whitson said.

According to the Albany Police Department, officers transported Eisenberg, Lewis and Whitson to Santa Rita Jail so that the area could be cleaned up. In a statement, police said numerous needles were found at the Bulb, as well as two dogs that were taken to the Berkeley Animal Shelter. According to a supervisor at the shelter, the dogs were later released to their owners.

Whitson said she was released from detainment after six hours and has since been sleeping in front of the California Bank & Trust building on Solano Avenue in Albany. She and Lewis still plan on spending their days at the Bulb to protect the art there, Whitson said.

The city of Albany has been trying to deal with the homeless population in the Bulb for more than a decade. Albany’s plan last year to transition homeless individuals into permanent housing, though, drew criticism from local law firms that said the housing did not provide sufficient accommodations for those with disabilities.

Albany city officials have said the city has been working hard to provide for the homeless, but Osha Neumann, one of the lawyers who represented the residents, described the settlement as unsuccessful.

“What Albany has done is outrageous, by expelling (Bulb residents) from the city,” Neumann said. “They’re doing very poorly with or without the money. They’re finding themselves back on the streets.”

According to Neumann, many of the former Bulb residents are now living under a highway overpass.

In addition to the settlement, Albany has also decided to continue a contract with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to help the homeless find permanent housing.

Contact Brennan MacLean at [email protected].