Clothes hang from a line stretched between trees in North Albany woods adjacent to a shelter that has become the residence of a homeless person in this photo taken in May. Officials say the people staying in the wooded area off 16th Avenue in north Albany have complied with orders to leave the area. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — Albany Police Department Chief John Proctor said Tuesday morning that his officers had reported all homeless persons living in woods off 16th Avenue in North Albany had been moved out of the woods as of Monday afternoon.
After a May 18 newspaper report detailed the conditions under which people were living in the wooded area, Proctor said last week that individuals who had taken residence on the property had until Monday to vacate or face law enforcement action.
“My folks have reported that the people living in the woods have moved out,” Proctor said during a break in Tuesday’s Albany City Commission meeting. “The homeless people have taken some of the things they had in the woods with them, and Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful is planning to go in and clean up the area.”
Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful director Judy Bowles said she had visited the site to assess what needed to be done to clean up the area, but had learned since that visit that much of the debris had been removed by those who were living in the encampment.
“I went in right after it was discovered to see what was in there and determine what kind of workforce would be needed,” Bowles said. “I understand now that most of it has been moved out. My guess is we probably need at least 15 volunteers to go in.”
Bowles, who is no stranger to cleaning up areas left vacant by the homeless, said she is meeting with the city’s public works department Thursday to formulate a plan of action where cleanup volunteers would pull the material out of the wooded area so public works could haul it to the landfill.
“Our major task will be going into a deeply wooded area that’s highly infested with mosquitoes,” said Bowles. “I’ve been into homeless areas before. It’s unfortunate for them and our community that places like that exist because it’s very unsanitary.”
David Blackwell, who is director of the local Coalition to End Homelessness, and other advocates for the homeless have insisted in social media posts that only one person was living in the woods, although different city officials indicated the number was somewhere between 18 and 60. During an investigation by The Albany Herald — which was aided by the Albany Fire Department, Code Enforcement and Public Health and included six separate trips into the wooded area — at least 11 people were seen entering or exiting the woods.
Blackwell said he had been successful in finding a living arrangement for one man who had been living in the woods “for six or seven years” with what Blackwell said was the permission of the landowner.The owner has since stated in a letter that she had not given anyone permission to live on her property.
Those familiar with the homeless population in the area said a number of churches, nonprofit agencies and individuals regularly dropped off food and other necessary items for individuals living in the wooded area.
As KADB completes plans to clean up the wooded area, its volunteers will be confronted with heaps of human waste and mounds of garbage that were left in the woods by the homeless population. During its investigation, The Herald photographed examples of both, although some homeless advocates have contended there was little or no such waste.
Staff writer Brad McEwen contributed to this report.