ALBANY -- The controversy over the homeless situation at the Albany Bulb heated up this week as Monday's City Council meeting was the target of a protest by Bulb residents and their supporters.
After the meeting, about two dozen protesters set up a homeless camp overnight on Solano Avenue to demonstrate what would likely happen if homeless people were cleared out of the Bulb.
City Councilman Michael Barnes said part of the problem is that the homeless population on the Bulb is not homogeneous.
"Our problem is that homeless people are very different from each other and have very different problems, from mental illness to drug abuse to physical health problems to just needing to find work," Barnes said. "The one-size-fits-all solutions that people are giving to us aren't going to solve the problem. It's going to take some hands-on work, and although we stated publicly we are going to start enforcing our camping ordinance in October, that's certainly not all that we were going to do. We want to get people off the Bulb and into a better situation.
"If this was an easy problem to solve, we would have solved it already," he added.
The action came as the city was scheduled to begin enforcing its anti-camping ordinance this month. The city has tried to emphasize its work to support homeless residents and get them into housing. The city announced Tuesday that it has an Albany Waterfront Park Transition Plan that will be discussed at the Oct. 21 council meeting.
As part of the plan, called ACT, the city will acquire trailers to offer as housing to Bulb residents. A transitional shelter will be set up "in proximity to the Albany Bulb."
The city also will subsidize 40 percent of rental units for former Bulb residents and says it will provide transitional services and support to evicted residents.
The cost of the project is estimated at $500,000.
On Oct. 2, Bulb resident Amber Whitson sued the city, accusing it of violating state law by not providing affordable housing. The city is way behind on approving a "Housing Element" for the current planning cycle, which runs through next year.
Whitson was joined in her suit by Betty Stephenson and Albany Housing Advocates. Stephenson is described as a home care aid who would like to live in the city but cannot afford to.
The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, asks for the city to adopt its state-mandated "Housing Element" for the current planning period within 120 days and zone or rezone "adequate sites to accommodate the city's unmet share of the regional housing needs allocation from the 1999-2006 planning period." The suit also asks for a writ of mandate preventing the city from issuing building permits, approving construction or changing zoning requirements for anything other than housing units affordable to very low and low-income households.
The city intends to turn over the Bulb to the East Bay Regional Park District so that it can become part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. However, the park district will not accept the land until the city has cleared the longtime encampments. Estimates vary, but it is believed that more than 50 people currently live on the Bulb.
The City Council voted in May to begin enforcing the anti-camping ordinance. The city previously cleared the camps in 1999 but had taken a hands-off approach in recent years.
The city held a "services fair" in the parking lot at Golden Gate Fields on Oct. 3 with the intent of connecting homeless and other individuals with service providers.
As part of an outreach program, the city has been working with Berkeley Food and Housing Project and the Solano Community Church to try to secure housing for the Bulb residents. According to the city website, one person has been housed to this point.
According to the city, 56 people have been contacted by the housing project, and 40 were willing to complete a "housing assessment." However, only 22 have been willing to share personal information necessary to complete a "Homeless Management Information Systems intake."
BFHP has accompanied seven people to view rental units in the area.