One of the nation’s biggest homeless encampments, the Jungle, is being shut down in San Jose Thursday. Wednesday is checkout for residents of the Jungle where along the creek bed of San Jose, hundreds of people came together and constructed a tree house with below ground bunkers and lean-tos for the homeless. The shantytown is just minutes away from Silicon Valley, which high-tech phenoms like Facebook call home, and downtown.
For some time, the residents of Silicon Valley and nearby downtown ignored the “Jungle.” Over the years however, the Coyote Creek camp has grown crowded and residents have begun complaining about human feces, rotting trash, and rats. It has reportedly gotten bad enough where the endangered steelhead trout is no longer there. Department of Fish and Wildlife has filed suit with the city for not maintaining the camp.
Multiple attempts to clean up the camp were met with half-hearted effort. Monday morning, city officials issued a 72-hour-notice for the residents to leave the camp. They cited health concerns and unsanitary conditions. Thursday, San Jose officials decided it was time to shut down the homeless encampment. Official check out time was 6 a.m. Thursday morning to vacate the camp. Workers already began the much-anticipated process of closing down the Jungle. The large camp has become a symbol of the homeless crisis in Silicon Valley.
San Jose and nearby Santa Clara County estimated roughly 7,600 homeless people in 2013 living in the area according to the Los Angeles Times. That was more than the homeless rate in San Francisco. 75 percent of the homeless were sleeping in public places like sidewalks, under freeways, and parks. The percentage of the homeless in San Jose is greater than any other metropolitan area in the United States.
City officials have blamed the spike in housing for the displacement. Silicon Valley exploded out of the recession with workers moving in droves, driving up rent. Rent averaged $1,761 in 2012. In 2014, the average rent has snowballed to $2,633 according to RentJungle.com, a rental website. The average home price is $700,000.
With the booming tech industry, community, and the massive amount of wealth in Silicon Valley, more and more people are forced out of the market according to executive director of Destination Home, Jennifer Loving. Destination Home is a public-private organization that seeks to end homelessness in the county.
Since the decision to close the camp was made, the city has spent close to $4 million in the last 18 months to move the residents. HomeFirst communications director Claire Wagner vouched that the city made a conscious and good-faith effort to move the residents. HomeFirst operates a homeless shelter and runs a services agency in the city.
The city was able to relocate 144 residents of the Jungle, but more than 50 still have no place to go even though they have been given rent subsidies. In 2011, the state halted affordable housing construction by ending special redevelopment assessments. According to Bramson, the problem lies with the homeless and not the encampments.
As of Wednesday, some residents of the camp were gathering their meager belongings to leave. Others stated they would wait it out as long as possible. Tiffany Curtis, 35, pushed a shopping cart full of garbage bags stuffed with her things to a minivan waiting for her. The city provided her with a one-bedroom apartment which will be paid for her on the condition that she remains gainfully employed.
Doug Wynne, 60, on the other hand plans not to move. He plans to stay with his six cats as long as possible. He’s been living in the Jungle four years and has built a brick pathway leading up to his tent home furnished with a couch, rug, and beds. Wynne migrated from Florida during the foreclosure crisis that gripped the state. He intended to sell software but ended up on the street panhandling in Little Saigon.
Many residents are laborers doing odd jobs such as catering and carpentry. At the end of the night, they come home to the Jungle unable to get something better. Some residents possess health problems and mental health issues. Some possess bad credit or a criminal record, all factors weighed when trying to find a home.
Robert Aguirre, a former engineering consultant, would consult companies on adhering to international safety standards. After the first tech bubble burst in the late 1990s his company began to slip. Most of his duties were outsourced and he and his wife lost their home. Due to his wife’s medical condition, including osteoarthritis, they planned to leave their upper story apartment for one on the ground floor. The plans fell through after the new landlord changed his mind to move a family member into the unit.
He and his wife moved to the Jungle in January after sleeping in the car sitting up gave his wife edema. Under a doctor’s suggestion, they purchased a tent and moved to the Jungle. Currently his wife is working as a medical clerk while he does day labor. They purchased a propane heater and stove and lay on a platform mattress.
Bulldozers and other equipment have been brought in to tear down the makeshift structure. Items of value will be held by authorities for 90 days giving owners time to retrieve them. The San Jose homeless encampment being shut down is expected to be cleared by Dec 19. Once the cleanup has been completed, San Jose police working overtime and park rangers will patrol the grounds routinely to prevent re-encampment.
By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by Franco Folini – Flickr License