Over the past decades, as federal funding for affordable housing nose-dived, the solutions to homelessness have been left to local governments. Though the effort has been far from perfect, almost all Bay Area cities have contributed resources to housing our region's poorest residents. Many have spent significant city funds. But not Albany.
The city of Albany has no homeless shelter. It has next to nothing on providing affordable housing, for years. It has been out of compliance with state law regarding zoning for affordable housing since at least 1999.
At best, it has fulfilled just 5 percent of its obligation to house very low-income people under the regional Bay Area Governments' Housing Needs Plan. And yet the city is poised to evict nearly its entire homeless population over the next six months, without providing anywhere for most homeless residents to go.
For decades, the Albany landfill, also known as the Bulb, has been home to nearly all of Albany's homeless people, many of whom report that local police told them to go there. The Bulb is a park, a favorite dog-walking spot and a space that local artists have used to create found-material sculptures. Recreationalists and campers have coexisted peacefully for years.
But in May, under pressure from a small number of pristine-park enthusiasts, the City Council voted to start enforcing its no camping ordinance for the first time in years. They plan to cite and eventually jail homeless people for sleeping on the Bulb, starting this month.
This will push many vulnerable and disabled Bulb residents onto the streets of neighboring cities.
After considerable public pressure, the city finally committed some resources to the issue: up to $330,000. However, it turns out that city staff do not envision spending any of that money on housing homeless people. Staff's current proposal is that money will be used for police, for dismantling shelters and taking belongings, for cutting down vegetation in the park so that people do not return, and for two temporary dormitory trailers for six months.
The trailers do not have space to shelter all the Bulb residents and will be inaccessible for most people with disabilities. The proposal is not designed to house people. Rather, the current plan is a thinly veiled cover for the kind of animus against poor people that once led cities to pass anti-Okie laws, making it a crime for "indigent" people to come to town. If it follows this plan, the council is abdicating its responsibility for good governance.
This is the Bay Area. We have experts among us who know what it takes to house homeless people: Everyone Home in Alameda County is a regional planning effort, and has copious information on best practices. Alameda County's Trust Clinic recently housed 60 chronically homeless people in a matter of months. Funding from the city of Albany could be leveraged to access more county and federal dollars. I can't think of a single homelessness or affordable housing report that would say the city's plan is money well spent.
Albany's City Council has a chance to make this right. They should take six months, commit the $330,000 to housing subsidies and join county efforts to end homelessness rather than jail the people experiencing it.
Paul Boden, executive director of the San Francisco-based Western Regional Advocacy Project, has been working on housing and homeless policy for more than 30 years.