The idea of building legal tent cities for the San Jose homeless – or sanctioned camps as they are called – died again in the city council chambers earlier this year.
It’s not the first time San Jose lawmakers have flirted with the idea. In 2015, then Councilor Don Rocha led the charge of building camps a year after authorities evacuated The Jungle, a huge camp that housed 200 people.
This time around, Councilor Raul Peralez suggested the idea of temporary camps in February as the COVID-19 pandemic continued its deadly toll in Silicon Valley. But just three months later, the council members put the idea on hold – again. They were concerned about the city’s resources to oversee the camps and their effectiveness.
Councilor David Cohen said expanding existing services would be more appealing to lawmakers and the community than a single location serving only a fraction of the uninhabited population.
“A lot of local residents want us to sweep these homeless camps away,” he said. “And I have to remind people that it’s no use unless we have an official place to go and places where people who are being swept are brought because it’s just one of the problems Relocated place to another. At some point people will come back to the same place anyway. “
In fact, a recent April San José Spotlight report highlighted how the city has conducted or participated in 98 homeless sweeps since October 2020 – and how they created a revolving door for residents who land back there a few weeks later.
But the idea of a city-sanctioned camp with sanitary facilities and other services continues to die out in the town hall because few people want to host camps in their neighborhood – and the housing department is not keen to operate them either.
“Stay away from my neighborhood!” Alum Rock resident Ben Sanchez wrote on a Facebook public group.
Housing officials told the city council in May that they could not afford to oversee a camp without additional resources as the homeless prevention funds tied to COVID-19 aid will soon be depleted. The annual cost of monitoring a warehouse could be as high as $ 1.5 million.
Recent proposals from city lawmakers did not include additional resources for the department, said Jacky Morales-Ferrand, director of housing. Other housing officials said they lack the resources to investigate the proposal further.
Mayor Sam Liccardo said expanding the city’s existing homeless management programs was the best way to go. The council unanimously voted to put the idea of sanctioned camps on hold.
According to the latest Santa Clara County’s homeless census, released in 2019, San Jose had 6,172 homeless people, an increase from 1,822 from 2017. The survey found 9,706 unhodged residents across the county – up from 7,394 two years ago.
The issue of sanctioned camps has increasingly split over the years and has even become political fodder for people trying to label local lawmakers as criminal and pernicious.
Elected officials say they face backlash over perceived support for the idea, including San Jose City Councilor Dev Davis. More than 1,400 residents asked them to withdraw support for building a home for the homeless in Willow Glen in 2019.
“I think (suggestions) need to come from the community,” Davis told San Jose Spotlight, adding that she met with residents to correct misunderstandings about uninhabited communities.
Residents want lawmakers like Davis to address the homelessness crisis, and for some people it just means evicting uninhabited residents from their neighborhoods.
“Actually, a lot of people are personable. I don’t want to say that there is a limit to their sympathy, there is a balance, ”said Davis. “They care about other people’s plight, but they will care no more about anyone than themselves, and that is human nature.”
In 2018, an empty parking lot in the Davis District became known as Hope Village and offered tent camps to more than a dozen residents.
It was dismantled six months later after the Federal Aviation Administration wanted it gone because it could jeopardize federal grant funding. Willow Glen residents refused to have the camp in their district, forcing Hope Village to disband.
“There are many people who are violent and need more care. People are getting bolder and bolder and there are a lot more vicious dogs, ”said Deb Kramer, executive director of Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, a volunteer group that collects trash along the San Jose Creeks. “You put all of these things together and it’s a lot less safe for people to be around.”
But proponents say giving people a safe place to temporarily rest their heads without worrying about sweeps can make a difference.
“It’s about stability and the feeling of being kicked out anytime, that’s really debilitating,” said Alex Shoor, co-founder of Catalyze SV. “So to have a place where I can say, ‘Hey, I’m trying to get out of here in the long term, but at least to help me, I’m allowed to be here.’ I think that’s a really stabilizing force for people. “
Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.