Two sides of Albany’s homeless problem came up before the city council Wednesday night in the form of pleas for help. But it did not look like any form of concrete help would come.
One side of the problem is that people are forced to sleep in their cars because they’ve lost their place to live. These people need a place to park their vehicles overnight.
Carol Davies, a representative of COAT, the Community Outreach Assistance Team of the Creating Housing Coalition, asked the council for help in creating an overnight parking space.
The lack of such parking has become a crisis, she said, because Albany’s two homeless shelters are full. And, she said, the police have been conducting sweeps of city parks to enforce the law against overnight parking there.
If council members had any ideas, I didn’t hear them. But the mayor asked Davies to speak to the city’s affordable housing task force, which meets occasionally.
The other side of the problem is not so much homelessness alone as it is vagrancy and law breaking, trashing public and private property, and bothering residents or the public.
A property owner whose yard backs up to an out-of-the way corner of Waverly Memorial Cemetery in northeast Albany complained to the council of the behavior of vagrants carousing behind his house, using foul language and leaving trash and feces on his property line. His house is in Millersburg, and the cemetery is in Albany.
Police Chief Marcia Harnden said officers respond to the address frequently and make arrrests when warranted. But the problem evidently has continued. And while the police do what they can, in her view it’s not strictly a law enforcement problem but a community problem.
Another man told stories of similar trouble on the Simpson Park Trail, an area long plagued by improvised camps and occasional trouble with and among vagrants.
The council was told that Albany just got an unexpected state grant of $250,000 to help with things like trash disposal from homeless camps. But evidently the money can’t be used for getting rid of the camps themselves.
Councilor Bessie Johnson wondered if the city could force private properties, like the cemetery, to clear the brush where vagrants hang out. And, she said, “Why can’t we just move them?”
Councilor Matila Novak said she was “at a loss. This is big stuff. There has to be something we can do.”
The discussion ended without anyone coming up with what that something might be. (hh)