San Jose has its Obamaville; Bryantville coming to Mayor Bryant’s Santa Cruz?

Large homeless tent city springs up near downtown San Jose

By Mark Emmons
Posted:   02/20/2013 04:19:03 PM PST
Updated:   02/20/2013 09:04:57 PM PST


Click photo to enlarge

A campsite, built by members of the homeless community, is part of a growing… ( Gary Reyes )

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.”

John Woolfolk contributed to this report. Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.

Herhold: San Jose has modern version of Depression-era encampments

Posted:   02/20/2013 02:28:37 PM PST
Updated:   02/20/2013 09:00:16 PM PST

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).


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 wil 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.

From: brent adams
Date: Thu Feb 21, 2013 4:57 am
Subject: Homeless Bill of Rights
To my mind, this is the most important thing going on.. and right up HUFF’s alley.

I’d like to hear you’re all rallying hard for this.
From: brent adams

Date: Thu Feb 21, 2013 12:09 am
Subject: San Jose has its Obamaville; Bryantville coming to Mayor Bryant's Santa Cruz?

That is a great place for a camp as it is in the main flight path of the airport.  The old neighborhood was torn down years ago and nothing

has replace it.  It is just acres of lush green grass and trees.  It is patrolled by a security company.  Occupy San Jose or some other

activist group should jump on this quickly.. it is a perfect place for a sanctuary/survival camp.