NOTE FROM NORSE: 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.
San Jose plans cleanup of homeless encampment that’s grown to 100 residents
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.”