In the 42 years that I have worked in Alameda County homeless services, the City of Albany has never participated in any of the activities that would result in housing or shelter for low-income and homeless people in Albany, or anywhere else. It has not committed money, submitted funding proposals, or even planned and zoned for affordable housing or homeless shelters. It has done less to create affordable housing or to shelter the homeless than every other Bay Area city that I am aware of. As a result, the City for many years has been in violation of state law, negligent in its responsibility under the Bay Area housing plan, and in default of its moral obligation as an American city.
So I was surprised and pleased to learn that, for the first time in my memory, the City of Albany is committing funding to this important issue: $250,000 to assist Albany Bulb residents (who comprise almost all of Albany’s homeless population) to transition off the Bulb, and into traditional housing. There’s just one problem: The City’s current proposal to use the money on temporary, dormitory-style trailers in a parking lot is a waste of taxpayer money. This money can, and should, be spent to help homeless people into affordable, long-term housing situations.
$250,000 could house 29 homeless people—more than half of the current Bulb residents—for a full year. But that’s just the beginning: Any good investment is a tool to leverage other money, and funds spent on homeless services are no different. The City can use this money to attract other funding and resources from Alameda County, and from other private and government sources. If Albany taps into the existing framework for homeless services, it could double its investment and house up to 60 homeless people, to the benefit of both housed and unhoused Albany residents.
With the right resources, it is possible to house 60 chronically homeless people in six months. In contrast, spending the money on temporary trailers is about as useful as taking the money up onto Albany Hill and burying it. Dormitory-style bunkers in a parking lot are not even a temporary solution: They would exclude many Bulb residents with disabilities (especially those with mental health challenges), they would be a step backward in City homeless policy, and they would not get a single Bulb resident into actual housing. The trailer proposal is a repeat of the City’s plan to clear people off the Bulb in 1999 , which I witnessed, and which was a failure in nearly every way.
I have loved the Albany Bulb for years. I took my kids there, and now I take my grandkids. The community of homeless residents is part of what makes the Bulb unique, and the Library, the Castle and much of the art, would not exist without their presence. I do not understand why the City is determined to clear their community off the Bulb instead of better managing or regulating it; even proponents of clearing the Bulb say that the Bulb worked well for years, shared by homeless residents, dog walkers, recreationalists, and artists. But, if the City is determined to move homeless people off the Bulb, it should at least move people into housing, and join the ranks of more responsible cities in working to truly end homelessness, rather than push its homeless people into neighboring cities.
boona cheema was the director of Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency, Alameda County’s largest shelter and homeless services provider, for 38 years until her retirement earlier this year.