Battle of the Bulb - Page 3

Eviction day nears for the homeless inhabitants of a colorful stretch of shoreline in Albany that nature lovers want cleared

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The Albany Bulb is a shoreline landfill turned art space turned homeless encampment turned park and nature trail.
PHOTO BY ALAN SANCHEZ

Neumann introduces me to three-year resident Katherine Cody, or KC. With pink hair and a wide smile, she seems younger than her 60 years. She babies her shih tzu Eva and makes beaded jewelry. Before living in a tent at the Bulb, she lived in her van. One of the perks to living at the Bulb, she explained, is seeing dolphins swimming in the bay, and watching the 50 to 100 hummingbirds nest in the tree above her tent every year.

KC's past isn't so idyllic. She said she was stabbed 20 years ago and the traumatic experience of yelling for help to no avail made her grateful to find a place like the Bulb.

"I am terminally ill," she said on a recent afternoon, "So I need a lot of help sometimes, and without my having to ask or go begging door to door, my neighbors show up."

After losing a lot of blood from the stabbing, Cody contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. Despite its rough exterior, KC and other residents argue that their neighborhood at the Bulb is not any more conducive to drug addiction or infighting than any other neighborhood or town.

"They are not capable of doing this job," KC said of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project's efforts. "It's ridiculous to expect in that time span to be able to get the job done. It's just long enough to make it look like they were being kind and not throw us out immediately, but it's not long enough to really do anything."

For Neumann, who has never been homeless himself, watching his friends and people he has known for years struggle to find a place to live makes him want to resist the city's enforcement.

"They are criminalizing the status of being homeless in Albany," Neumann said outside of KC's tent. "Albany doesn't have anything. It doesn't have a shelter, it doesn't have transitional housing, it doesn't have available subsided housing, doesn't have any services. Nothing. Zero."

Neumann and some of the Bulb campers claim that police from surrounding jurisdictions told many homeless people, forced to leave their encampments in other areas, to go to the Bulb. Albany Police deny the charge, with a spokesperson telling us, "the Albany Police Department did not/does not have a policy of instructing homeless people to relocate to the Bulb."

Nonetheless, Neumann says, "For a long while, this was Albany's homeless shelter."

Amber Lynn Whitson, 32, said that she will celebrate her seventh year living at the Bulb on Oct. 31, if she is able to stay. But she is one of the few inhabitants, she said, who is actually preparing to leave.

"Me and my boyfriend have gotten rid of almost everything we own," she said between cigarettes. Whitson said she came to stay at the Bulb after moving around a lot.

"It's so nice here," she laughed. "When you have been kicked around from place to place and told you don't belong here, you don't belong there, it's so refreshing to be told by the local authorities you belong there."

Whitson said she isn't sure where she will go after the no-camping policy is enforced. She is sure though, that the fight to resist will continue.

"This won't be over in October," she said. "Even if we are out, it won't be over in October."

 

LIGHTS OUT

After we speak with some of the residents, Neumann and I part ways. Before he leaves, he encourages me to take a look around, meet people, and enjoy the art.

Along with the people residing at the Bulb, the art has become a major sticking point surrounding what the Bulb is and what it could be. Cheasty, while not wanting the people to stay, personally doesn't see the harm in keeping the art intact. In contrast, Laforce believes that part of making the Bulb into a "usable" park requires the removal of the art.

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