ALERT: Albany, CA squatters resist eviction of Freedom Colony

Tom Boland (
Sat, 19 Jun 1999 14:46:49 -0700 (PDT)

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How can activists and other concerned persons help to defend homeless
squatters against eviction from sites such as Freedom Colony on the San
Francisco Bay?

For a related article, see below:
FWD  San Francisco Chronicle - Wednesday, June 16, 1999 - Page A17



  Thaai Walker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Ashby Dancer awoke yesterday morning inside the darkness of
the plywood shack he built with his own hands knowing that by the end
of the day, he might be forced to leave his home -- the only one he
has ever owned.

Time was supposed to be up for Dancer and the 40 or more people
who have built a community of tents and ramshackle homes on top of a
slice of windswept East Bay shore once used as a dumping ground.

It was the day that Albany's new ordinance banning overnight
camping in the area went into effect as the city prepares to
transform the land into a public park. The people living on the land
were told they would have to leave or risk being cited by police.

But yesterday's deadline came and went. Temporary housing that the
city had hoped to make available to the squatters was not ready for
use by late yesterday. The city decided that until the units are in
place the community can remain and police will leave the squatters

Even before learning of a temporary reprieve, life went on as
usual yesterday for the Freedom Colony, as they call themselves.

``Today is another day,'' Dancer said, as he sat on a chair inside
his tidy one-room home yesterday afternoon smoking a pipe. ``And
tomorrow I'll still be here. I'm not going anywhere. I put everything
I've got into this place.''

City officials said the temporary trailers, expected to house as
many as half of the encampment's population in a nearby
parking lot, should be ready in a couple of days. In the
meantime, Albany police officers will visit the encampment to make
sure all who live there are well aware that the ordinance is in
effect and that eventually they will have to leave.

The 75-acre site the colony calls home used to be a dump for
freeway construction materials. It was land, they say, that no one

But now Albany and the state, which both own the land, plan to
turn it into part of the East Shore State Park stretching from
Emeryville to Richmond.

Since deciding in April to roust the encampment, city officials
have moved delicately, trying to figure out how to evict a community
that has existed for years.

Albany wanted to avoid a nasty confrontation reminiscent of those
that occurred in other cities, such as San Francisco and New York,
that tried to sweep squatter villages from their parks. They offered
incentives -- modular housing, available for 90 days, complete with
electricity and water in a nearby parking lot, storage facilities and
social services.

But those who live in the Freedom Colony say no incentives could
measure up to the life they've come to know.

They say necessity and choice led them to the site. For some there
was nowhere else to go except for the street corners and doorways
they were constantly being moved from.

Others made a decision to separate themselves from the world
called mainstream, where for one personal reason or another, it
wasn't possible for them to function.

``Society in general doesn't make sense to me,'' a tattoo-covered
bearded man, who calls himself Animal, said yesterday as he stood
near the tent he has lived in for two years.

Before moving to the Albany site he camped by the train tracks
near Interstate 80 in Berkeley. But, then one day the police told
everyone to leave, he said.

``They came in and bulldozed everything. Now there's nothing there
but a flat piece of land. There was nowhere else to go -- all these
people got pushed out here.''

He looked around.

``And there ain't no place to go now that's going to be as nice as

The colony has grown among concrete slabs and driftwood. It has
sprung up behind the bramble bushes and off the gravel paths where
wildflowers twist around the rebar that juts out from the ground like

Some of the homes are nothing more than tents with sleeping bags.
Others are actual structures with floors and roofs and windows, some
of which look out across the bay onto San Francisco.

The people who live in them have laid down old carpets, dressed up
old mattresses with pillows and blankets. They've constructed
makeshift kitchens around portable gas stoves. They've turned buckets
into toilets.

Paula Johnson and her boyfriend, Chris Moser, moved into the
encampment in October. It took them three weeks to build the small
home they share with their three dogs on a shelf of land that juts
out over the bay.

They didn't use a level or a tape measure.

``I just eye-balled it and put it up,'' Moser said.

Other structures are more ornate. The colony's original settler, a
shy man who has been there seven years, is carrying out a dream to
build a heart-shaped castle fashioned out of discarded chunks of

Everyone knows everyone. They call each other by nicknames, like
Caveman, and C-Mo and Rabbit. The only rule to follow is to respect

Dancer, a lithe man with a chiseled face and dreadlocks, moved to
the colony two and a half years ago. He once had a wife and children
and drove trucks for a living. Somehow he lost everything.

He has been somewhat of a ringleader for the group. A former
featherweight boxer, he still feels there's a chance to win; that a
few days reprieve may turn into something more.

Several months ago, he posted signs around Albany asking for an
activist lawyer to help them fight the city. When the City Council
was poised to make its decision, he went before them and ``fussed
with them,'' he said.

On Monday night, the evening before the deadline, the group
gathered to talk about their eviction -- whether they would put up a
fight or move away. Dancer told them that he was proud of everyone
for staying put.

``The bell hasn't rung yet,'' he told them. ``This is not over.''


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