The Albany Bulb is a piece of public land that juts out into the bay near Oakland, California. It’s a popular dog park and boasts spectacular views of Oakland, San Francisco and San Francisco Bay.
I visit it nearly every time that I come to the Bay Area – as I have this week, to do a reading in Berkeley tomorrow for Holly Hardy’s reading series, Saturday Night Special.
Last time I visited the Bulb, I was with my friend Emily and there were, as usual, lots of campers living in the park.
“The city has been trying to get rid of them for years,” Emily told me. They would periodically come in and do a sweep and kick everyone out. But people without homes, called this place home, and eventually they would come back again.
Walking around that day with Emily, I could tell the place was a community. Art was everywhere and the people living there seemed to take care of each other. We respected the privacy of the camps and kept our distance, sticking to edges of the park.
When I went to the Bulb on Wednesday with Bernard. There was no one living in the park. It seemed cleaner, with more blooming flowers, but it also felt empty. And well, a little boring.
Bernard and I both worried that the city had also hauled out the funky and homemade artwork from the park. We did eventually find some statues, but they seemed a little worse for the wear and lonely. Most of the other artwork was gone.
I wondered out loud if the city had finally solved its “homeless problem.” Bernard told me he’d heard a rumor that there were plans to build on top of the Bulb, on top of the mounds of rip-rap, sand and wildflowers.
I found no evidence of this. But I did find this article.
The three thousand dollar payment given to the residents of The Bulb seems generous only in the context of other interactions between the police, the state and homeless people. Police all over the country routinely harass, confiscate belongings and evict homeless from camps.
I read this article (http://www.seattleweekly.com/home/957584-129/a-letter-to-the-investor-buying) on the car on the way to the Bulb that day and nearly cried, as overwhelmed as I was by the story of one elderly Seattle resident who killed himself rather than become homeless. I find it infuriating that our society seems to stop short of dead bodies on the street in its approach to homelessness.
The day after our visit to the bulb, I visited an old friend in SF. She’d recently been evicted from her place and had decided to move into an apartment in an other part of the city. I asked her why she chose to stay in San Francisco, rather than move to Oakland, considering the fact that most people I know from my days in grad school can no longer afford to live in the city. She told me that she plans on staying in SF so that she can get her name put into a lottery for San Francisco residents. The lottery is for a program that provides property for sale for Below Market Rates (BMR.) She can stay in the lottery for two years, and if her name isn’t drawn she can reapply. “Ask me how I feel about living in San Francisco in two years,” she said.
For our part, Portland has recently been deemed the most gentrified city in the country. (http://www.governing.com/gov-data/census/gentrification-in-cities-governing-report.html) The report shows that although Portland is still not nearly the most expensive city in the US, it has seen the greatest increase in housing costs compared to the Portland of ten years ago. Much attention is paid to the gentrification of North Portland - how it has pushed out the historically African American residents to East Portland. This is significant because African Americans in Portland constitute a "super minority" and now their once vibrant (although segregated) community is a diaspora of sorts throughout the metropolitan area.
However the recent gentrification has pushed out many poor people - of all colors. And now Portland is in the midst of its own housing crisis. Folks that used to be able to afford to rent or own houses, can’t do so anymore. (I’ve lived with my parents for nearly three years now because I can’t afford to rent my own place, let alone buy a house. And I am lucky. ) Most people my age that I know that have bought houses got help from their parents to do so.
The older I get the more I realize how crucial housing is.
Oregon has some of the worst laws in the country, (next to Texas,) as far as low income and inclusionary zoning is considered. We pride ourselves on being a progressive state, however we are also a historically blue-collar state that is rapidly gentrifying and in the excitement of new development, our leaders have forgotten the poor and lower middle class.
I wanted to say something profound today in my “Portland Update” but this whole topic has made me feel rather sad. I want to get involved with some of these organizations: The Oregon Inclusionary Zoning Coalition, The Community Alliance of Tenants, and the Welcome Home Coalition.
So greetings from the West Coast, and I hope wherever you are, you have a roof over your head.