Albany police say individuals living in several shelters erected by a group of homeless people in a wooded area off 16th Avenue in North Albany must leave the shelters by Monday or be subject to law enforcement action. (Herald file photo)
ALBANY — The homeless population that settled in a wooded area off 16th Avenue in northern Albany has until Monday to clear out of the woods or face arrest by Albany police.
Albany Police Department Chief John Proctor said officials who work with the homeless in the community have been notified of pending law enforcement action.
“We have received notice that the property owners in that area (including Catherine Crawford, who, police initially said, had given permission for the homeless encampments) do not want people living on the property,” Proctor said. “Through the owners, we have posted the property and given notice that the people living there need to remove themselves.
“Right now, it is a social services issue. After June 2, it will become an enforcement issue.”
The Albany Herald reported May 18 that it had received reports of “from 18 to 60” homeless people living in a wooded area off 16th Avenue. A subsequent Herald investigation, aided by the Albany Fire Department, Albany-Dougherty Code Enforcement and Environmental Health, revealed a number of tents and shelters set up in the woods.
Police at the time said Crawford had granted the homeless population permission to live in the woods, but Dougherty County Environmental Health Manager James Davis said that Georgia law requires a suitable sewage or waste removal system and running water on any property that is inhabited.
Crawford later sent a letter to APD saying she had not given permission for anyone to live on her property. Keith Brookerd, who developed the Arlington Park senior subdivision adjacent to the woods, distributed copies of the letter to residents of the subdivision after many complained about the Albany Herald article.
“I, frankly, don’t understand why there isn’t action being taken to remove these people from that land,” Brookerd said before learning of Proctor’s announcement. “What part beyond ‘We own the property and we don’t want them there’ do we need to get into? If the city doesn’t want to take action to remove these people from private property, let them move onto public land like at Tift Park. Then the public can decide if they want them there.
“Arlington Park is one of two successful developments I’ve brought into Albany, and how many people are doing that now? There are zero problems there, and the development is bringing in property tax money to the city. Our residents shouldn’t have to be fighting this battle. They wonder now if it’s OK to have anybody just move into your backyard.”
Several residents of the senior subdivision contacted The Herald after the May 18 story was published, noting their concerns about the homeless population. One wrote in an email: “It’s a nice gesture that Ms. Crawford allows them to live on her land, but is she going to clean up their garbage piles and mounds of human waste after they bring rats and disease to our neighborhood? And to the churches who bring food one day a week and then turn a blind eye the other six: If you truly want to help these homeless then let them live on your property with access to running water and proper waste management. They steal water from our spigots, go through our garbage looking for scraps, and I even had a panhandler approach me when I went out to get my mail.”
Another resident, Lanis Hatcher, said there were other issues, as well.
“There are mostly elderly widow-women who live in this community,” he said. “They’re not comfortable being approached by these people asking for money. And when the wind is just right, there’s an odor coming out of there.”
David Blackwell, the director of the Albany Coalition to End Homelessness, said last week he’s working to find homes for some of the people living in the woods, several of whom have reportedly been living there for years. Blackwell did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday.