Police in Silicon Valley clearing out largest homeless encampment in USA
As San Jose closes one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments, many of its residents have nowhere to go
Veiled by the yellow willows and brush along a forgotten creek bed in San Jose, hundreds of people jerry-built a treehouse and constructed underground bunkers and ramshackle lean-tos to form one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
The 68-acre shantytown is just minutes away from downtown and the high-tech giants that made Silicon Valley one of the world’s most opulent locations. For years, the city turned a blind eye to “the Jungle.” But the camp along the muddy bank of Coyote Creek has become more crowded in recent years and is awash in rotting trash, rats and human waste — so bad that the endangered steelhead trout have essentially disappeared.
After years of halfhearted cleanups, city officials on Thursday plan to begin shutting down the Jungle for good.
The sprawling camp has become a major embarrassment, and a potent emblem of Silicon Valley’s homeless crisis. In 2013, San Jose and the surrounding Santa Clara County estimated almost 7,600 homeless people, more than in San Francisco. And 75% of them were sleeping outside, on sidewalks, in parks and under freeway embankments — a percentage greater than in any other major U.S. metropolitan area.
Officials have blamed soaring housing costs for the displacement. As Silicon Valley rocketed out of the recession, workers streamed in, driving the average apartment rent within 10 miles of San Jose up to $2,633 in September, from $1,761 two years earlier, according to the rental website RentJungle.com.
The median home price is nearly $700,000.
“It’s a perfect storm of extreme wealth, a booming tech community and people priced out of the market,” said Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination Home, a public-private partnership to end homelessness in the county.
Since deciding to close the Jungle, San Jose has spent $4 million over 18 months to relocate the camp’s inhabitants and connect them to services.
“The city really made a good-faith effort,” said Claire Wagner, communications director for HomeFirst, which runs a homeless shelter and services agency in San Jose.
But while 144 inhabitants have found housing, more than 50 have rent subsidies in hand but nowhere to go.
In 2011, the state ended special redevelopment assessments, which essentially brought affordable housing construction to a halt, said Ray Bramson, San Jose’s homelessness response manager. “Encampments are not the problem, homelessness is the problem,” Bramson said.
“If you have 10 applications to choose from, nine with stable rental histories and work, and you have somebody living in a creek; what are you going to do?” Loving added.
On Wednesday, some inhabitants of the Jungle were packing up to leave while others said they planned to remain as long as possible.