The San Jose City Council votes to reinstate the sprawling homeless camps

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San Jose workers and Tucker Construction workers clear tents and makeshift homes along the Coyote Creek Trail in San Jose, California on March 15, 2021

The San Jose City Council voted this week to immediately resume the management and control of homeless camps prior to the pandemic and to investigate the idea of ​​sanctioned camps.

In essence, the pre-pandemic pandemic resumption of warehouse management vote gives the city the green light to clear or “sweep” warehouses and move recreational vehicles that are or are in public safety at risk Located near schools, daycare centers, or other places where children are taken care of.

It also means the city has voted against guidelines from the federal agencies for Disease Control and Prevention in Camps, which recommend stopping the evacuation camps during the pandemic, as it could result in individuals losing contact with service providers or the virus spread.

However, Mayor Sam Liccardo recently wrote in a memo that the city had taken CDC guidelines “far too literally”.

“After a long push, we have tempered our strict adherence to the Public Health Guidelines to Clarify Public Rights of Way, but not enough to address many of our residents’ other fundamental public safety concerns,” Liccardo wrote. “I urge you to do so immediately.”

As of October 2020, the city has swept five warehouses: two cleared for renovation work on Coyote Creek Trail, one cleared to make way for the Felipe Bridge Housing site, and two others said RVs have right of way according to public information a memo from Assistant Director of Public Works Jon Cicirelli.

The vote passed by the city council also recommended that the city find alternative locations for unhoused people to be swept up before being removed from their camp – something the city often failed to do in clearing camps even during the pandemic.

As a result, many residents who have been forcibly removed from their camps eventually return, sometimes a few days after the search.

For this reason, Councilor Raul Peralez recommended that the city explore and set up sanctioned camps – public spaces that are partitioned off to allow legally uninhabited people to live, where services such as case management and health care are provided.

“I try to support any movement that does not contain an alternative location or alternative locations to which we should redirect people,” said Peralez, who was the only dissenting vote on the resumption of the camp sweeps.

He said he was in favor of resuming the camp sweeps, especially if they pose a threat to public safety, but could not support a return to the status quo, “which is just waning, identifying places inaccessible to the camp and constantly moving on.” ” out and people shuffling from place to place. “

“This is the opportunity to do something different … and I want to take advantage of that before we just go back,” said Peralez.

The proposal to investigate the feasibility, costs and details of sanctioned camps had only two votes against – Councilors Dev Davis and Maya Esparza – but still did not receive strong support from the Council. Some councilors who voted in favor were very reluctant to do so.

Liccardo, who voted in favor, said he would much rather invest in finding long-term living space for people and asked staff to investigate the idea of ​​sanctioned camps as a “low-touch effort”.

“I know what it costs in San Francisco – it’s over $ 60,000 a room for one person in a sanctioned warehouse, which is way too much money to spend on people sleeping outside,” Liccardo said during the Meeting. “We should be spending this money on getting people in.”

Councilors David Cohen and Pam Foley repeated this sentiment in a memo, even though they had also voted for it.

However, other council members like Matt Mahan were more likely to support sanctioned camps, saying they would be willing to find an area in their district to do so should the council decide to go in that direction.

Shaunn Cartwright, an attorney for Santa Clara County’s unhoused population, said the mayor’s reluctance to support sanctioned camps was fair, but claimed that sanctioned camps should be set up to prevent homeless residents from being constantly evicted.

“It’s stressful for people to be moving all the time,” said Cartwright. “It’s a term called relocation stress syndrome where people actually die from the stress of moving around so often that happens a lot to our homeless community.”

Cartwright also noted that sweeps weren’t an effective strategy for clearing camps anyway, as many people return to the exact same place.

“It’s their home. What do you expect from them if you don’t give them another option,” she said. “I guarantee if you offered accommodation, 99 percent of people would take the opportunity, but they don’t have many options.”

Many councilors acknowledged that sweeps were not the best way to tackle homelessness, but noted that it is sometimes essential.

This is especially true in areas where camps are right next to school grounds or RV parks where fires are started and threaten nearby communities, Esparza said.

During the discussion on homelessness, the city council instructed city officials to raise additional funds for the expansion of temporary and temporary housing.

Council members also instructed staff to expand the SOAR program, a road service in which psychiatric clinicians and drug and alcohol abuse counselors provide services to unhodged residents and link them to interim or temporary accommodation, to large camps.

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