Please forward to like-minded parties.
My name is John. I was born in West Virginia, grew up in rural southern Ohio, went to Ohio State for a while in the 60's. I believe in love, peace, and the holy miracle (the possiblility thereof, anyway). I live in a high-rise apartment building overlooking the Albany landfill and the squatter's village there. I've been reporting on the situation out my window and across the freeway (through the Homeless Persons Network (HPN) list <HPN@aspin.asu.edu> and through the iPoet.com site (click on the vertical 'Features' bar from any iPoet cafe - or see the links below).
The situation at the encampment is critical. Background: The Albany landfill is a manmade peninsula, created by 'dumping out' into SF bay, from the barren shores north of Golden Gate Fields racetrack. The dumping occurred from the mid 1960's to early 1980's. In 1984 the 78 acre 30' tall site was topped with concrete rubble and dirt and abandoned by its makers. Nature took its own beautiful course. As did a growing number of hardy pioneers. In the great tradition of history, one soul after another found the courage to challenge the unknown and the uncharted, and, well, moved outon the bulb and settled down. They've built homes of recycled material, a 200' foot long dock, a small bridge, cleared neat campsites, have a reasonably-well functioning, if informal, form of government, and are generally a boon to the surrounding community (providing recycling services, cheap labor, and good poetry). Most are good people, maybe learning disabled, maybe phychologically indisposed to paying rent or mortgage (include me in that number - I believe a person should not have to ask or pay another to stand or sit or walk or sleep upon the earth). Some have addictions. Some live there to help free themselves from addiction. (It is a mile long, exposed showy walk along a freeway access road from the nearest bus stop /main street and a lot further than that to the nearest liquor store.) This is not a place you'll find your stereotypical vagrants. The people there have co-existed with the authorities of Albany for years; there have been people living openly on the Bulb since the 1980's maybe. Now there are how many...50? 60? I don't have an exact count. A lot of people there are shy and avoid contact with the public. They want to be left alone. Some are more outgoing. None are really what you might call 'activist.' The closest: Robert the Rabbit and Ashby Dancer. Rabbit is white, an old hippy and a genuinely good-hearted person. Dancer is black, upfront, and courageously protective of the community. He lives in a little plywood house on the right before you get to the flag. He's the gatekeeper, so to speak. Robert lives well-back on the bulb in a big welcoming camp with a fire and tents around. He's the philosopher. Both are media spokemen. Talk to either, Talk to anyone, actually. It's a free place. The freedom there is palpable. It's so free, it's scary at times. The cops won't come out normally, the residents say, it has to be a big deal before they do. I was there a week ago or so, after the dock rescue, (see below) and Mad Mark's little shack caught on fire and burned down. It was a fifty yards away or so from Rabbit's camp where we were, the brush is so thick we didn't even know that anything was happening, and no way the Albany FD or PD could have or would have responded. How could they have even known, it probaby looked like a bonfire if anyone on the 'mainland' saw it at all, and there's no phone or electricity around for a mile to report anything. The people there on the bulb would rather handle these things themselves anyway.
So here's the situation: There is a plan to incorporate the area into the East Bay Regional Park system ( I don't know the details). Last year a park trail was built around part of the landfill (called Albany Bulb because it looks like a bulb - see map link below) and a regular Albany citizen walking her dog blundered into a resident's camp and the resident's dog attacked the citizen's dog, and that was it. After much debate and hand-wringing (realizing they have no real moral leg to stand on) the Albany City Council on May 15th stood instead on its legal leg, and gave the Albany Bulb 'campers' 60 days to get out, posting a notice that on June15th camping would no longer be allowed - from 10pm to 6am anyway. It was really great I understand, all the landfill residents were showing up and speaking out at the city council meetings. There has probably never been anything quite like it. No advocates or organizers really, just 'homeless' people speaking their minds, and asking, politely and meekly, and PUBLICLY, 'We've harmed no one, we were there first, please let us alone.' It must have had an effect. Homeless encampments elsewhere are bulldozed with no notice. Boom!, Pow!, Gone! - before a news crew even hears about it. Not here. Here they got 60 days notice. And...
there's been a bit of a media swarm. I saw a TV cameraman chasing a newspaper photographer chasing a resident with a shopping cart the other day. I wish I had had my camera:) It's funny sort of, but the result, maybe, is that here it's now June 26, 11 days after the posted eviction date f June 15th, and the 'flag still flies'. (see photo link below). Tom Boland of HPN posted an article from the SF Examiner (Rebel Housing) saying that most residents are resisting moving out. I was at the landfill today. Maybe 4 or 5 residents have moved to the alternate trailer housing so generously provided by Operation Dignity and the City of Albany. The rest still squat. Is there the will by the citizens of Albany to forcefully evict these people? I don't see it. I don't hear it in the coffeeshops or read it in the newpapers. I think just the opposite. Albany is a regular-guy town. The 'homeless-no-more' enampment is a mile across 2 freeways and a railroad track from any other housing; the landfill residents' only real 'neighbor' is the Golden Gate Fields horse racetrack. And they don't impact the racetrack unduly that I've heard. They just trudge their bikes or carts past it on the way out (usually to Gilman Street and the recyclers there), or on the way home. There's been an upturn in the number of complaints, lately, though to city services (FD and PD), due to the new park trail, and due to 'sweeps' elsewhere that push regular homeless ever-further away from the commercial arteries, and perhaps due to stress associated with the impending eviction on a certain 1 or 2 individuals. We all react to violence differently, and eviction is inherently a violent act, is it not?
I put up a post a few days ago about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Poor Peoples Campaign and something called "Resurrection City." This was actually suggested to me by a resident, and I did a little research. The Poor People's Campaign was initiated by MLK shortly before his death, it involved more than homeless people and involved people of all races. The big symbolic event of the campaign was "Resurrection City" a mass camp-in of poor people on the Washington Mall -- started a week before MLK was shot, the assassination took the energy away from it and it was razed by the government and mostly the PPC was forgotten in the aftermath. Maybe, maybe, the time is right to gently revive the PPC and build a new Resurrection City. (There are no restrictions on daylight activities there on the Albany landill, aka Albany Bulb, aka Freedom Colony, aka Resurrection City that I know of). The residents there had a little chruch, it burned down some time back. Rebuilding it could be the first project. Anyone?
Flag photo+: http://ipoet.com/FEATURES/Street-Spirit/Street1.html:
Robert the Rabbit: http://ipoet.com/FEATURES/TREES/Rabbit.html
Dock Rescue: http://ipoet.com/FEATURES/TREES/RESCUE.html
MLK Jr./ PPC info: http://ipoet.com/FEATURES/TREES/ResurrectionCity.html
"Rebel Housing" link to SF Examiner story June 16th:
How to proceed:
Please make a suggestion. What can you do? What would you like to see happen there? Have you talked to the residents? It's a fluid situation. There is a lot of "possibility." The more people climb on board, the better the chance for a positive effective fascinating enlightening encouraging etc resolution. It's really up to *all* of us, isn't it, the residents, the city, Operation Dignity, you, and me? I say go for it, take this dream as far as they/we/you can take it. Yes!
Please forward to like-minded parties.