Defend those without homes! campaign page [link]
* Thousands of residents living without homes in San Jose, 2013-12-15 [link]
* "San Jose: Four people die of exposure overnight" 2013-12-06
2013-02-28 "San Jose plans cleanup of homeless encampment that's grown to 100 residents"
by Carol Rosen from "San Jose Mercury News" [http://www.mercurynews.com/san-jose-neighborhoods/ci_22693356/san-jose-plans-cleanup-homeless-encampment-thats-grown]:
A homeless encampment on Spring Street near the Mineta San Jose airport has been targeted for a full cleanup during the week of March 4. Cleanup of the site will include removing trash and debris, eliminating all structures and storing all property and belongings for 90 days.
The site has become an eyesore, according to city officials, who report that the camp started with a few tents and tarps but grew to more than 100 residents in about a month. In early January, Caltrans cleaned up a camp on the Guadalupe River north of Coleman Avenue. The people living there joined what at the time was a small homeless camp on Spring Street's undeveloped parkland, adding tents and tarps, fire pits and other semi-permanent structures.
One of those structures was built on a plastic-covered mattress to keep cold and wet out of the tent, according to a local news program. As more homeless moved in, groups that reach out to the homeless brought them food, clothing and other items to make those living there as comfortable as possible.
The city is concerned not only for the welfare of those living in the encampment, but also because it is visible from passing cars, and by business people and tourists flying into Mineta San Jose airport.
The city in mid-February began notifying the camp's residents that a cleanup would take place within 30 days.
The city's housing department, in conjunction with Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, the police department and environmental services are involved in the cleanup. At the beginning of the week the city will issue a warning, followed 72 hours later by the cleanup, which is estimated will take one or two days. The four departments also will coordinate with outside contractors including the Conservation Corps for trash and debris removal, Santa Clara County household hazardous waste and Tucker Construction to remove the structures.
Typically, once a camp has been cleaned up, the homeless drift back, sometimes within hours. This time the housing department plans to keep them out.
"There are a number of possible deterrent options that we're evaluating at this time," Ray Branson, homeless encampment project manager, said in an interview.
The police are committed to respond to the site on an as-needed basis, but other options include hiring a security company or using the city's park rangers to patrol.
While numbers from the 2013 homeless census, taken in January, are not yet available, the census two years ago estimated about 18,000 live on the streets or in encampments, according to Branson. This continual challenge to the San Jose community has resulted in a long-term plan to slowly but eventually get people off the streets.
San Jose's 1,000 Homes Campaign is working to get the 1,000 most vulnerable homeless into permanent homes. Homeless people will be interviewed as to the length of time they've been on the streets, their age, physical illnesses or disabilities and mental health. Those determined to be most vulnerable will be moved into homes and given a case manager to follow their progress.
The city is finding help for the program with Destination Home and local nonprofit groups. "We won't have an answer that will end homelessness in a month or a year, but in the long run we believe our work will yield positive results," Branson said.
An encampment in San Jose Council District 9 on the Guadalupe River is on the priority list for the program, according to Branson. While the first step will be Spring Street, other areas will follow. As the camps are cleaned up, deterrents, such as access barriers, fences and an on-site security presence, will be used to keep the homeless out.
"We're not just picking up trash and letting [the people who were living here] come back; we're hoping to utilize barriers to keep them out. The goal of our program is to have a long-term impact for the community," Branson said.
At the same time, the project is working to create housing units so the homeless won't have to camp out. Options include looking at different methods of developing units, ordinance modifications for existing units, master leasing and developing housing and policy methods to add housing units to the community, Branson added.
"The key issue is for the city to make positive progress. This is a complex problem and there's no question this is a tragedy that hits everyone."
NOTE FROM NORSE of "Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom" in Santa Cruz [www.huffsantacruz.org]:
By "cleanup", of course, the San Jose Mercury News and the San Jose Police Department mask the darker reality: the destruction of homeless survival camps. City authorities provide no alternatives, but simply destroy protective structures, confiscate survival gear, and drive people out of a protective community.
Homeless survival is apparently an "eyesore" to some, but that doesn't amount to a public health or safety problem--which is the real issue.
It's amazing how baldly brutal the statements by public officials are, candidly talking about "fences" and "keeping them out" and citing the needs of tourists and airport customers to a sunny view on their drive to and from San Jose.
Another bit of hypocritical window-dressing is the 1000 Homes Campaign program (somewhat similar to Santa Cruz's 180/180 figleaf, which seeks to provide shelter (actually to lessen the financial cost) of a small percentage of the most visible and intractable homeless folks.
Prior "destroy the encampment" programs in other cities at least would make token efforts to provide temporary shelter for the folks they were displacing (usually for a few days). Authorities apparently feel more shameless these days in the absence of strong protests.
Perhaps CHAM (The San Jose Community Homeless Alliance Ministry) or the Occupy San Jose movement will do some documenting of this massive attack on poor people.
2013-02-20 "Large homeless tent city springs up near downtown San Jose"
by Mark Emmons from "mercury news" [http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_22631406/large-homeless-tent-city-has-sprung-up-near]:
A campsite, built by members of the homeless community, is part of a growing tent city in open space along West Hedding St. and Spring St. in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. A clean-up effort last December along the Guadalupe River has displaced hundreds of homeless who are now settling in nearby open spaces. This area has been the latest cause of concern by the city of San Jose in dealing with illegal homeless encampments. (Gary Reyes/ Staff)
SAN JOSE -- As a large homeless encampment has sprouted in grassy fields not far from the Guadalupe River Park, some frustrated local residents have made this sarcastic suggestion:
Maybe the financially strapped city should just start charging camping fees.
"I've heard that joke," said Ray Bramson of San Jose's housing department.
But he's not laughing. Nobody else is, either. The tent city, which rapidly mushroomed into a makeshift community of more than 100 people, has become the latest test for officials as they wrestle with the complicated problem of homelessness.
Director of Housing Leslye Corsiglia wrote Wednesday in a memo to the City Council that the site, located along Spring Street between Taylor and Hedding streets, is targeted to be cleaned up -- and cleaned out -- the first week in March. The "somewhat unprecedented growth" of the encampment has prompted the city into action, Corsiglia told the council.
Bramson, the city's point person on the encampment issue, said the larger challenge is finding solutions beyond merely pushing the homeless elsewhere.
"This site is our highest priority right now because we can't accept this," he said. "We don't want that land to be overtaken and have people coming from outside the region and set up there. We realize that it's unsettling for the community and that nearby residents don't feel safe."
There has been mounting political pressure throughout Santa Clara County as
residents and environmental groups -- fed up with crime and garbage associated with encampments -- have pushed for more attention to be focused on the homeless issue.
A majority of the city's estimated 60 encampments are along waterways where they generally are hidden from view. This one is different because it's so visible and has grown so quickly -- much like an unsightly weed. The open area near the popular Guadalupe River Trail, sports fields and San Jose Heritage Rose Garden has become populated with about 70 tents and tarpaulin-covered structures.
Not taking action, Mayor Chuck Reed said, simply will invite more people to set up camp.
"Folks are trespassing and there are no sanitary facilities," Reed said. "We certainly don't want people living in unsanitary conditions. We have to go through, clean it up and get people into services."
Area residents say there used to be one person living in a tent there. But more tents began appearing late last year. Then, a January cleanup of state land along the Guadalupe River by Caltrans had the unintended effect of swelling the numbers on this undeveloped property that is owned by the city and the San Jose Mineta Airport.
"All these new people came up from the river banks in the last month, and I stay as far away from them as possible," said a homeless man who asked not to be identified. "Most of those people are drug addicts, and you can hear them up all night. It's horrible."
Peter Hubbard, 62, visits the green space because it's a prime location for migrating birds. But he has watched with increasing alarm the damage to the ecosystem and the brazen attitude of some squatters. One man, he said, saw his bird-watching binoculars and advised him to leave.
"I told him in no uncertain terms that he had no right to tell me what to do on that land,"
Hubbard said. "I'm not looking for any confrontations with these people, and I'm sympathetic because I know a lot of them have problems. But they just can't let people stay there."
Sgt. Jason Dwyer, a San Jose police spokesman, said the department has not seen a noticeable uptick in crime near the encampment.
"But it's certainly an eyesore because there's a lot of tents out there," Dwyer said. "You can see it growing, and I'm sure thousands of people who drive past them every day see it, too. But cleanups aren't going to solve the problem. The goal has to be to get people off the streets permanently."
Bramson agrees. He said the city's nonprofit partners who work with the homeless have been making outreach visits to the site, letting people know that workers are coming and offering shelter options. The short-term aim will be to prevent repopulating the encampment -- which is a common, frustrating pattern.
"It does have the feel of a campground," Bramson said. "It's basically park land, and that makes it hard to keep people out. We just don't have the ranger coverage that we used to have. But there needs to be some level of enforcement to keep it clean."
A homeless man with a scraggly gray beard who identified himself as Pete, and said he is a 59-year-old Air Force veteran, understands why the city wants them out.
"They're not picking on anybody personally," he said. "The city doesn't want to lose its image. It's hard to say where I'll go, but there's always options."
Hubbard is just looking forward to the site being returned to its original state.
"It's such a fine piece of land, and that's why I'm a real advocate for this parcel," he said. "When they're gone, I'll be back in there helping to clean it up."
2013-02-20 "Herhold: San Jose has modern version of Depression-era encampments"
by Scott Herhold "Mercury News" [http://www.mercurynews.com/scott-herhold/ci_22630578/herhold-san-jose-has-modern-version-depression-era?source=pkg]:
We can say it officially now. San Jose has its Hooverville, the modern version of the Depression-era encampments that collected the misery of the homeless.
True, it is a suburban Hooverville, with trash bagged on the street, propane tanks for cooking, campsites distanced from one another. Even the homeless don't like being cramped.
Like the Hoovervilles of the 1930s, however, the encampment rebukes our complacency, reminding us of the fractures in our economic health.
As you drive into downtown on Coleman Avenue from Interstate 880, you can see 70-odd tents blossoming on either side of Spring Street in the city's airport approach zone.
All that is likely to change soon. Located on the city's welcome mat, the encampment is too visible to stay. City officials have scheduled the week of March 4 for a massive cleanup that could cost $40,000.
In the game of "whack-a-mole" that we play with the homeless, the tents and their occupants will migrate elsewhere.
For the moment, the visibility of the encampment off Hedding Street forces us to confront a phenomenon that we'd sooner put out of sight, out of mind.
In his state of the city message, Mayor Chuck Reed noted happily that the Milken Institute had proclaimed the San Jose metropolitan area the best in the country at creating and sustaining economic growth. (The study was actually talking about Silicon Valley, but let's not quibble too much).
Folks left behind -
The truth is that there are thousands of folks left behind in that race -- the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, the folks with criminal records.
In the creeks, they were the people who used shopping carts to fish for Chinook salmon.
They were the folks who dumped their trash and sewage into the stream. Environmentalists cried foul. The Santa Clara Valley Water District made cleaning up the creeks a top priority. In early January, Caltrans swept the Guadalupe River.
And the homeless moved to the cleared plots of what a half-century ago was a residential neighborhood -- before the jet planes shook the houses to their foundations.
From a not-in-my-backyard point of view, the homeless have landed in a place without too many complaining neighbors.
"The word has gotten out that there's no resistance," said Leslee Hamilton, the executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy.
I rode my wheezing Nishiki 10-speed past the encampment this week and saw a tired-looking man in his 50s walking toward a tent with a cup of coffee.
"Do they give you any hassle here?" I asked him. "No," he told me, "as long as we stay out of the creek."
Their own code -
It struck me that he and his comrades were obeying their own rough zoning code: Stay out off the creek. Protect the field mouse and the fish. Hope for a look the other way.
Just steps away from the developed portions of the Guadalupe River Park, which some saw as our rough-hewn Central Park, the settlement is too visible to ignore.
And many good people are trying to deal with the unwanted settlers. The Emergency Housing Consortium has dispatched its folks. City staffers work hard to find help. It is not a lack of goodwill.
The Hoovervilles of the '30s were political statements, located in places like Central Park in New York City or the shores of the Willamette River in Portland, Ore.
The encampment on Spring Street is a political challenge, too, but one less widely shared than the misery of the Depression.
"It's easy to point fingers at police and just tell them to arrest people," said Councilman Sam Liccardo. "But if you don't have somewhere to push them to, they'll be back."
The Hooverville of the airport approach zone will disappear for a while. The homeless will not. They will gather again under a freeway, or near a creek.
For most of us, they will be out of sight, but they should not be out of mind.