ALERT Albany, CA: Landfill squatters must leave soon, says city

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 15 Mar 1999 18:27:39 -0800 (PST)


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Could San Francisco Food Not Bombs, or others nearby, help to prevent the
eviction of homeless campers from the industrial landfill in Albany, CA?

See below for a related article:

http://www2.nando.net:80/noframes/story/0,2107,27670-44614-284454-0,00.html
FWD  Associated Press - March 14, 1999

     LIFE ON LANDFILL MAY END FOR CALIFORNIA HOMELESS

     By Anne M. Peterson

ALBANY, Calif. (March 14, 1999 7:55 a.m. EST http://www.nandotimes.com) -
Robert Barringer's home is a mishmash of tents and tarps on a craggy piece
of land off the San Francisco Bay. His radio is on, and Monkey, his cat, is
frolicking near the fire pit where he cooks.

But soon he'll have to leave. The old industrial landfill that has become
home to him and dozens of other homeless people is being turned into a
park.

It could happen this summer, and Barringer doesn't know where he will go.

Inside his tented home, 47-year-old Barringer is gracious to visiting
strangers. He offers a seat and talks wistfully about coming to California
during the Summer of Love, getting a degree in art history from the
University of California at Berkeley, and working off and on restoring
homes.

"I've always worked, I've always done something," he said. He has been
homeless since getting kicked out of his apartment, and "Things have just
kind of fallen apart lately."

The city wants to turn the windswept landfill into part of the Bay Trail
and Eastshore State Park. Two portions of a trail are already complete.

Because of its bay view, the area has already attracted walkers and
birdwatchers - and complaints about the debris, raw sewage, stray dogs and
homeless campers.

Then there's a population explosion. Construction on a nearby freeway
brought the people who had lived beneath an overpass. Another project on
railroad land brought more residents. Officials put the present population
at 150.

Police say they have been called to the landfill 35 times in the past 10
months, for everything from simple disputes to attempted murder.

City officials say the public safety issues are particularly worrisome
because it's hard for police vehicles and fire trucks to get to around the
landfill.

The Albany City Council is considering everything from restricting access,
camping and fires to leaving the landfill open to all and providing health
and safety facilities.

The city owns the outer reaches known as the Bulb, while the flat area
inland belongs to the state and the East Bay Regional Park District.

"When they feel comfortable about the land, and the people who are using
it, then they'll decide how to proceed with it," Assistant City
Administrator Ann Ritzma said.

Alex McElree runs Operation Dignity, an outreach program to help the
homeless, and patrols the landfill in a second-hand ambulance equipped with
blankets, raincoats and food.

"There's no question about whether these people will have to leave," he
said. "The question is when."

McElree walks the well-worn paths on the landfill, closed in 1984.
Vegetation has taken back the land, but chunks of concrete and pieces of
rusted metal still peek out from weeds and bushes.

"See those condos over there? That's the American Dream," he said, pointing
to luxury apartments looming over the encampment. "Over here? This is the
American reality."

Not far down the path on the Bulb, McElree happens upon a campsite.

"Is anyone home?" he calls out.

The camp has been abandoned, probably rained out, according to McElree. An
old coat hangs from a tree. Books, old shoes, empty beer cans and wine
bottles are scattered about.

"Watch out for needles," McElree says, gingerly stepping through the debris.

McElree, a former Marine who himself was homeless for about six years, says
he's trying to make the transition easier, talking to the campers about
what they will do when moving day finally comes. He wants the city to
contribute portable toilets and Dumpsters to help with the transition.

"There are people out here who aren't going to want to leave until the
police come out and make them leave," he said.

Sarah Teague is homeless and looks much older than 32. Her face is lined
and dirty, her smile is missing several teeth. Her hands are rough. Yet her
childlike greenish-yellow eyes are glowing like a cat's in the waning sun
of a recent afternoon.

Teague keeps a motherly watch over 56-year-old Thomas John Wallace, who
hasn't left his tent since the chain broke on his adult-sized tricycle.
Bicycles are popular on the landfill, because it's a long hike to any
services.

Wallace's legs are hurt, but his exact ailment is unknown. His makeshift
tent is filled with trash and flies and an awful stench. He doesn't speak
clearly. McElree thinks he suffers from what he calls "Isolationist
Syndrome"; 25 years of living alone have made him unable to communicate
properly.

Wallace peers out of his tent and asks his visitors if they'll buy him a
new tricycle.

"He needs his tricycle," Teague said. "It's the only thing that keeps him
going. It's like physical therapy."

Teague's care of Wallace exemplifies the sense of community. When a man
threatened Teague, another moved his campsite close by to protect her.

"This is my family," she said.

Jean-Paul Sabots is known as "The Mayor" out on the landfill, but he
doesn't like the bureaucratic implications of the nickname. He rides his
bike along the paths, letting residents know Operation Dignity has arrived
with food and supplies.

"The people who are out here are independent individuals," he said. "Some
of them have been pushed way too much. Which is why I'm out here."

They also tend to be reluctant to talk about when and why they became
homeless. Pressed for answers, the diminutive 51-year-old Sabots says he
lost his home after his wife left him and got custody of his child. He
moved to the landfill more than five years ago.

Sabots doesn't want to leave. He wants a compromise, perhaps involving the
squatters in cleaning up the area for park visitors.

He maintains that only 50 homeless people live there, not the 150 counted
by the city.

"This piece of land should be for the people," he said. "Us."

END FORWARD

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