They reported gun violence, stole cars and watched indignantly for months as garbage piles up and homeless camps grow around them.
Business and property owners in downtown San Jose are calling on the city to take action to end vandalism, theft, and the rise in illegal camping which they say is devastating livelihoods.
And they don’t crush words – one man even calls homeless people parasites.
“We will soon see a hero before us who will rid the world of these parasites that infect and destroy life and property,” wrote Arturo Lionetti, Operations Manager at Airgas, in an email to Councilor Raul Peralez.
The email was part of an email thread San Jose Spotlight had received to Peralez from five business owners along Coleman Avenue – which began in 2019 – complaining about the issues. The business owners claim the city turned a blind eye.
“If the city can’t provide the basics – if I continue to bear the cost of repairing the ongoing, almost nightly vandalism and destruction of myself and my customers’ property – I’ll be out of business by June. “George Fota, owner of Rose Garden Auto Care, said in an email dated December 17th.
“Councilor Peralez, do something!” The email continued. “It appears that you are knowingly helping the people who illegally camp in the neighborhood to destroy small businesses.”
Peralez said his office was being bombarded with emails similar to Coleman’s business thread. He said residents were most concerned about camps near Guadalupe River Park and Coyote Creek.
The Centers for Disease Control and the Santa Clara County Health Department are preventing the city from dismantling camps during the pandemic unless the people living there can be relocated.
Peralez told business owners that San Jose’s largest shelters are no longer accepting new residents due to rising COVID-19 cases in the shelters. San Jose has approximately 6,000 homeless people.
“The emails got pretty awkward a few months ago after receiving no response to the cuts for several months and stocks growing as they had,” Peralez said.
Lionetti sent another email through a warehouse near his work place on Montgomery Street.
“What a wonderful day, today I saw a new tent out of my office window that was occupied by two homeless men. The land is claimed and populated as it was in Newfoundland times … “I am participating in this area and claiming it for myself,” he wrote. “Go back – you heathen! – because the law is not responsible for those who invade private property. “
Peralez hopes the city can find a way to end the “us versus them” mentality when it comes to the homeless.
“We shouldn’t think that way about our neighbors, regardless of the challenges we all face,” said Peralez. The council member has advocated sanctioned camps where the city could have some control, but the idea was not supported enough by his council colleagues, Peralez said.
Shaunn Cartwright, a longtime homeless attorney, said the company and the city need to work together to promote change.
“Do the same companies support rent control? Are the same companies involved in saying, “Yes, we need more low-income housing?” Do they push the city council just as hard on these two items when they are on the agenda of the calendar? “Said Cartwright.
“If you want to address the homeless problem, you have to approach it systematically and at the root,” said Cartwright.
According to Cartwright, that root cause is a low minimum wage, a lack of low-income housing, scarce mental health care, and a lack of detox beds. The San Jose City Council is stepping up efforts to fund more housing and assistance programs for homeless residents, but Cartwright said the pandemic and reduced accommodation capacity are making it more difficult for homeless residents to stay.
A Coleman Avenue builder said he supports social programs for the homeless and families in need, but the city needs to enforce the law fairly.
The owner, who was not part of the email thread, was granted anonymity for fear of retaliation.
“I fought with people. I have people camping on my doorstep. Some of these crazy people approached me, ”he said. “We need an alternative for people who refuse any support. You shouldn’t be able to walk around town breaking the law. “
He said his truck was in the store after someone broke into him. Another truck was stolen. He reported on the crimes but said the reports had not come to fruition.
He also complained about people pitching tents and parking RVs along Coleman. In one case, a homeless man brandished a gun at another homeless man outside his office. This is the only incident the police have responded to, he said.
Before the pandemic, he said the city had met with business owners to talk about how best to protect themselves and their employees. However, the response has been minimal since the pandemic.
“It’s a bad situation down there and everyone is very frustrated,” he said. “It is illegal to occupy public spaces. It’s illegal to do half the things that are being done and nothing the city will do about it. It’s a shame Silicon Valley allowed this to happen. “
Peralez said he reported the complaints to the police, but enforcing the law is not always easy.
“It is indeed illegal to camp in our parks, destroy or steal your stores, and illegally dispose of rubbish. However, it is much easier said than done to simply demand that our cops enforce these crimes, ”Peralez wrote in response to the deals. “Unless a crime has been committed, the police are not the best way to actually get a better result.”
Peralez said he and other San Jose leaders were simply trying to accommodate people. He cited the Homekey Hotel project – which will serve as temporary accommodation – as a step in the right direction, but added that there was still much to be done.
He said the COVID-19 vaccine could also help the city’s efforts to get people off the streets.
“I hope we can get (homeless residents) vaccinated, and then we can manage these camps better than what we’ve done before, which essentially just keeps them growing,” Peralez said.
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.