Kathryn Cota says she spends most of her time at the Jungle, but doesn't live there. (James Tensuan/KQED)

Kathryn Cota says she spends most of her time at the Jungle, but doesn't live there. (James Tensuan/KQED)

Homeless Evicted From ‘The Jungle’ in San Jose

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City crews began dismantling San Jose’s massive homeless encampment known as “The Jungle” Thursday morning.

Thought to be the largest homeless encampment in the United States, the 75-acre camp was home to about 300 people. Most lived in tents, shacks and tree houses amid piles of trash.

The city says the camp must be cleared because of increased violence, wet weather and unsanitary conditions that are polluting nearby Coyote Creek.

“Living conditions that constantly jeopardize [lives of the homeless], put the environment at risk and put the surrounding safety of the neighborhoods in jeopardy is not a situation we can tolerate as a city,” said Ray Bramson, San Jose’s homeless encampment project manager.

Residents were given notice Monday that they had to leave or face arrest for trespassing. This morning, about 60 residents remained at the camp, dragging their belongings through ankle-deep mud as they made their exit. Some had friends pick them up in cars or vans, while others left on foot with shopping carts filled to the brim.

Doug Wynne pokes his head out of his tent where he's been living for the past four years. Wynne came to San Jose from Florida hoping for a job in the tech industry, but feels he was too old to be viewed as a desirable employee. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Doug Wynne pokes his head out of his tent where he’s been living for the past four years. Wynne came to San Jose from Florida hoping for a job in the tech industry, but feels he was too old to be viewed as a desirable employee. (James Tensuan/KQED)

Resident Robert Aguirre says the closure is baffling, because for years police and social workers sent people to The Jungle after closing other encampments across the city.

“By shutting this down you’re actually making these people homeless,” he said on KQED Forum. “A lot of these people have been here for as much as 20 years. They built homes for themselves. They’re waterproof, they’re weatherproof, they’re just nontraditional homes. Now they’re going to be forced out into the streets.”

San Jose has cleared out The Jungle in the past, most recently in May 2012, when 150 people were evicted. Aguirre said that it was only a matter of weeks before residents returned.

This time, the city says, the eviction is final. They’ve dedicated $4 million to cleaning up the site and providing housing subsidies for residents.

Social workers have spent the past few months finding housing and jobs for residents. Instead of clearing camps as they have in the past, the city is taking a “housing first” approach, Bramson said.

They’ve placed 144 people in permanent homes and another 55 will be housed soon, Bramson said. Nearby shelters have also set aside designated beds for camp residents.

But some housing advocates say the closure should have been postponed until more alternative housing could have been found, and that the housing subsidies aren’t enough.

Crews work to clean out debris left behind. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Crews work to clean out debris left behind. (James Tensuan/KQED)

“What [the city] does, is they fail to provide housing for people, and then they blame the homeless and think they can solve the problem just by moving them around,” said housing advocate Sandy Perry.

Nearby companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo, eBay and Facebook have amassed incredible wealth as the tech sector roars back to life following the recession. The growth has driven up home prices in the Bay Area, and many available units are unaffordable for low and middle-class residents.

“To not be able to house our people in the richest place in the world at the richest time in its history shows us that something’s completely broken about our city,” Perry said.

Jose Alcala, right, removes his belongings after living at The Jungle for two years. Rain and mud has complicated the move for many residents. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Jose Alcala, right, removes his belongings after living at The Jungle for two years. Rain and mud have complicated the move for many residents. (James Tensuan/KQED)
A work tears down a wall at The Jungle. (James Tensuan/KQED)
A worker tears down a wall at The Jungle. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Residents dragged their belongings to the side of the road. Some had friends to pick them up. Others left on foot. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Residents dragged their belongings to the side of the road. Some had friends to pick them up. Others left on foot. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Jose Alcala takes a break from packing to get a drink of water. Alcala lived in The Jungle for 2 years, and is now headed to a group home down the street. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Jose Alcala takes a break from packing to get a drink of water. Alcala lived in The Jungle two years, and is now headed to a group home down the street. (James Tensuan/KQED)
The rain and mud made the move messy. At one point a dump truck brought in to cart debris away got stuck in the muck. (James Tensuan/KQED)
The rain and mud made the move messy. At one point a dump truck brought in to cart debris away got stuck in the muck. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Many residents left any valuables they could not carry in one or two loads behind. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Many residents left behind any valuables they could not carry in one or two loads. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Andrew Costa peels of a warning sign off a makeshift wall. The area was called 'The Jungle' because it reminded him of him of his four tours in Vietnam. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Andrew Costa peels a warning sign off a makeshift wall. The area was called ‘The Jungle’ because it reminded him of his four tours in Vietnam. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Residents were given noticed that they needed to clear out on Monday. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Residents were given notice that they needed to clear out on Monday. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Mike Cooper takes a break from pushing his shopping cart of belongings out of The Jungle. He's been living in the Jungle for about six months after falling on bad luck when he moved to San Jose from St. Louis. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Mike Cooper takes a break from pushing his shopping cart of belongings out of The Jungle. He’s been living in the Jungle for about six months after falling on bad luck when he moved to San Jose from St. Louis. (James Tensuan/KQED)
An item left behind by a Jungle resident. (James Tensuan/KQED)
An item left behind by a Jungle resident. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Holiday decorations adorn a tree at the Jungle. (James Tensuan/KQED)
Holiday decorations adorn a tree at the Jungle. (James Tensuan/KQED)
One of Doug Wynne's six cats sits near his tent at the Jungle. (James Tensuan/KQED)
One of Doug Wynne’s six cats sits near his tent at the Jungle. (James Tensuan/KQED)

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

  • Jason

    Dispersing homeless people may not be my favorite idea, especially since most of them will now be trespassing elsewhere and their lives have become even more difficult than they were, but that property is a health risk. The pictures are even more disgusting than what I see when I drive by the Jungle. Somehow the city has successfully kept most homeless out of Kelley Park across the street. Could this become part of the same park system and be managed equally? It could be a beautiful piece of land if restored from the criminal activity going on there for decades.

    • SarahBJones

      Inequality is a health risk.

  • Chris Herring

    I’m a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley who has studied large encampments across the country and authored the National Coalition for the Homeless report: Tent Cities in America. The city’s homeless response manager Ray Bramson on this program justifies the camp’s eviction on grounds of “environmental risks,” and its “unsafe and unsanitary conditions,” following the identical script used by officials in the recent evictions in Albany, Fresno, Stockton, and Sacramento among others. Yet it is difficult to understand how an eviction might relieve any of these conditions.

    First, the eviction will not mitigate the ongoing environmental damage to Coyote Creek by homeless habitation. Even if the city succeeds in preventing re-settlement after the
    “sweep” it will not resolve the pollution problem, but merely move it around. The Jungle is the largest camp in a much longer archipelago of 247 tent cities along Santa Clara’s waterways that contain 1,230 people according to a recent county census. While the $7,000 investment in an eight-foot steel fence and several boulders to seal the site may restore the natural habitat of the Jungle, it will be at the cost of increased environmental degradation further upstream where the evicted will relocate.

    Second, the eviction will exacerbate rather than improve the unsanitary conditions faced by the evicted – pushing them further from clean water, recycling centers, and toilets. An obvious alternative would be for the city to provide access to sanitation. In November Jungle residents protested for better sanitary provisions, in an event eerily similar to those occurring in the favelas of Rio and slums of Mumbai, shouting “No Potty, No Peace” in front of the three Port-A-Potties provided by the city. Not only was the 1/100 person to toilet ratio grossly inadequate, they were only open between 8am-4pm. After hours, residents were encouraged to use city-provided sanitary bags. When a United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights visited Sacramento’s Tent City and discovered similar conditions the city was found in blatant violation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, for denying access to safe water and its policy of eviction. Far from a solution to unsanitary conditions, San Jose’s evictions are likely in violation of international law.

    Third, eviction will only increase the insecurity and violence experienced by the evicted. From interviews I’ve conducted with residents of twelve large encampments across the west coast, the primary reason people “chose” to live in camps as opposed to limited alternatives was the “safety in numbers” that shields from attacks by other homeless, pestering by police, and harassment of the housed who all too frequently exploit, rob, rape, or beat-up the un-housed. Yes, the Jungle was a violent and dangerous place. The sad reality is that it was likely safer than the places the evicted will be spending the coming nights.

    City officials will refute the critiques above by highlighting their “housing first approach” to eviction, noting the 144 Jungle residents who have been successfully housed with two-year rental subsidies, the 60 who have vouchers in hand, and the opening of 250 winter shelter beds. The claim that the provision of the regularly scheduled 250 temporary shelter beds is an ample response to a permanent eviction in a city with more than 5,000 unsheltered individuals is an insult to citizen’s intelligence. The fact that 60 voucher holders, more than one-third of recipients, could not find housing even with government guaranteed rent is an embarrassing indictment to city, state, and federal policies that subsidize wealthier homeowners at the expense of poorer enters. Furthermore, the blanket-provision of vouchers to Jungle residents is unlikely the most efficient and just use of scarce resources but rather a case of using handouts to reduce a Public Relations bruising.

    Most importantly, housing provisions did not cover all those in the Jungle. At least 50 people were evicted by police along with countless others who left beforehand in
    anticipation of eviction. These people were not living in the Jungle “by choice,” but because they had nowhere else to go. Expelled them from all other public spaces through the region’s increasing criminalization of poverty, they have now been pushed into more remote, dangerous, and unsanitary jungles along Coyote Creek.

    Chris Herring
    Berkeley.
    http://chrisherring.org/

Author

Olivia Allen-Price

Olivia Allen-Price is an interactive and engagement producer at KQED News and is editor of the Bay Curious series. Prior to joining KQED in 2013, Olivia worked at The Baltimore Sun and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. She holds degrees in journalism and political science from Elon University, and has won awards from organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists, Society of Features Journalists and MDDC and Virginia Press Associations. She loves to talk about running, curly hair and the Baltimore Orioles.

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