City Officials Accused of Creating Homeless ‘Internment Camp’

About 15 people living on a dirt parking lot next to San Jose's largest homeless settlement received notices from the city Friday night warning them to clear out in time for a clean-up or face arrest.

"You are TRESPASSING and will be subject to CRIMINAL PROSECUTION if you remain," the flyer cautioned. "You MUST remove all of your property from this location by 7am on Monday."

Robert Aguirre, 60, felt panicked. He lived at "The Jungle," a sprawling encampment with 300-plus residents across from Happy Hollow Park, for 15 months, he said, and he's spent the last four months on the street-level side in a large yellow-trimmed tent pitched by shrubs and a wooden trestle.

"We worked our way up the hill," Aguirre said Sunday. "My wife's sick, so we had to move up. She couldn't go up and down that hill no more. Now where? Back down?"

Activists, philanthropists and homeless residents held a press conference Sunday to protest the city's short notice, as well as oppose a fence the city plans to build around the parking lot, the roadside entrance to The Jungle. They called the city's efforts an attempt to create "an internment camp" for San Jose's homeless.

Protesters carried hand-made signs emblazoned with, "Build more affordable housing," "Stop criminalizing our community," and "No more fences, build homes."

By Monday morning, no city workers came to enforce the order taped on Aguirre's tent. The scheduled clean-up, apparently, was meant for the opposite side of The Jungle, on the other side of Coyote Creek. But Aguirre and other parking lot dwellers are still expected to pack up within the month, according to city officials.

Although a sweep didn't come Aguirre's way this week, the city acknowledges that it plans a large-scale clean-up for The Jungle sometime this fall, said Ray Bramson, the city's homeless response coordinator.

"The work going on at that site is part of a large, coordinated effort to house homeless individuals living in the encampment and restore the site to address multiple health and safety issue," he told San Jose Inside.

The goal is to clear the camp by the end of the year and house as many of these people as possible. But Aguirre told San Jose Inside he has a Section 8 voucher already—he just can't find a place to use it.

The fence and boulders slated to wrap around the parking lot leading to the camp will cost the city about $7,000, Bramson said. Perry Sandy, an affordable housing advocate, said he worries the fence will make it harder for volunteers to feed the homeless.

"This is where we come to help and build community," he said, gesturing toward the lot. "Building a fence feels punitive."

City officials say ministries and volunteers will have to ask permission to access the site once the barriers are in place.

For more about life in The Jungle, the Associated Press published this report last month: "Survival and Defeat in Silicon Valley Slum."

Protesters

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to jenniferw@metronews.com or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

30 Comments

  1. But Aguirre told San Jose Inside he has a Section 8 voucher already—he just can’t find a place to use it.

    He can’t find a place around here. There’s still affordable housing in California, just not in the bay area. He could rent a place at the Salton Sea for $100@mo.

      • Here’s some more sense for you then, because “Salton Sea” made me think about another segment of people. The kids trying to escape Central America. Just house them in the abandoned and investment properties around the sea.

    • Exactly. When families were priced out of Santa Clara County they moved to the central valley and dealt with horrible commutes. Why do the homeless not want to travel to more affordable living spaces especially when they have the section 8 voucher to help them do so? BTW, do you know if section 8 vouchers are a lifelong deal or is there a time limit that they receive that assistance before having to manage their expenses on their own?

  2. There is a problem with both the current situation and plans to resolve it.

    I get that squatters on city/water district property create a lawless environment with trash, pollution, drug use and lawless activity (think “jungle justice” where someone get’s a beat down for breaking unwritten community rules.) There’s also the issues with the water shed getting screwed up with trash and medical/drug use waste (but it’s pretty screwed already with the Mercury trapped in sediment.)

    When I worked (once upon a time) doing outreach for homeless veterans (with the VA and later Catholic Charities) I saw many problems that weren’t any easy fix (many just simply aren’t ready or able to transition from homeless to housed via Section 8 vouchers.) Someone are working and struggling to improve their situation while living (off the grid.) Others are engaged full-time in living under the radar, off the grid, and are trying to hide out of sight while abusing drugs and alcohol which sometimes involves doing more than just casual recycling to sustain (think criminal stuff from shoplifting, mail theft to drug sales and other higher offenses.)

    I also so some interesting examples from places like Fresno and Modesto (if I recall correctly) where during VA outreach visits I noticed homeless transitional housing compounds adjacent to rescue missions. They basically took a bunch of pre-fab garden type sheds and set them all up in a fenced in and gated compound adjacent to the mission.

    There were obviously rules (like no drugs or alcohol in the housing area, no fighting or theft, etc) but this offered something better than a tent are shanty in an at risk area. It’s worth exploring more. I know it won’t meet anyone’s code requirements, but does the current tent city?

    What’s really missing in the care plan is “transitional housing” which helps people looking to better themselves a safe path out of total homelessness. Creating jobs (gate guard, trash detail, help in the community kitchen, etc) can also help people to raise their self-esteem and start saving towards more permanent housing (which ain’t cheap, even with Section 8 vouchers – there’s still a deposit, furniture, utilities and utility deposit, food and transportation expenses.)

    I observed the HUD-VASH initiative rolled out in 2007 to end Veteran Homelessness with special Section 8 vouchers paired with case workers (social workers assigned to each participant for the first 2 years.) There was some real success stories, but also some tragic flame-outs where moving from homelessness to a solo apartment actually enabled people to go off the deep end of substance abuse, depression/isolation, suicide. So something more than just Section 8 is probably the way to go (and my suggestion is a transitional housing phase like a group living situation.) During this process mental health issues can be identified and addressed (as possible) so that we don’t set people up for failure.

    Realize also, it was/is a free country and there’s still a spirit of self-sufficiency in our culture (think great depression and the shanty towns where some people just want to do it on their own without being talked down to or treated like bad children for being poor or homeless.) There’s no one size fit all solution, and never will be. I think we should think about at least 3 approaches, and not just one. Think jobs, think safe/sanitary environment, think counseling paired with self-help and empowerment, think about criminal justice involved folks (who feel they need to stay off the radar because of parole/probation or immigration status.) Think about solutions outside the box (especially national homeless doctrine that says all you have to do to solve homelessness is give everyone a Section 8 voucher.) Partnerships, planning, and daring to try some new approaches (knowing some will be hard or fail) is better than insisting everyone behave exactly as you dictate.

  3. SJI and Jen… please explain how you a or anyone else can make this “internment camp” claim and maintain credibility.

    Signs posted notifying residents that they are trespassing / evicted / don’t come back or face arrest combined with placing boulders and a fence to prevent return in now creating a camp?

    You’re sounding more and more like old man Herhold…nuts!

    • Read the article again. She was quoting activists, not making that claim herself. Reading comprehension is important when commenting.

      • …oh you are so right Lou. No harm in lending credibility to the “activists” by quoting them and incorporating their ridiculous allegation in the headline is there?

        No reason at all for Jen or SJI to pretend to be newsgatherers/reporters and ask the “activist” a simple question like: “How does positing signs threatening arrest if campers remain or placing barriers to discourage campers/humanitarians/Sight seers from entering this area add up to the CREATION OF AN INTERNMENT CAMP?

        At least when Herhold is trying to be cute he includes a disclaimer at the beginning of his nonsense.

        • Meyer Weed asked:“How does positing signs threatening arrest if campers remain or placing barriers to discourage campers/humanitarians/Sight seers from entering this area add up to the CREATION OF AN INTERNMENT CAMP?

          Just a theory but, perhaps it’s just a sign that SJI has grown tired of coming to their offices every morning to find the doors urine soaked. Maybe after years of frustration and arguing with city officials about the problem, they’ve run out of ideas.

          Godwin’s law (or Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies)[1][2] is an Internet adage asserting that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1″ [2][3]—​ that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.

          Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

          So perhaps this isn’t even a sign of sympathy from the part of SJI. Perhaps they’re really sick of the homeless problem. Unfortunately when you support a guy like Sam Liccardo for mayor, you’re going to have more of this. The homeless situation in San Jose has done nothing but grown worse since my cousin has been out of city hall.

  4. I can almost hear a voice saying, “If you build it they will come.” The “it” is housing for the homeless, the “they” are the homeless from far and wide.

    Advocates for the homeless, as well as the advocates for ignorance on the city council, are trying to sell the idea that housing is a right. Well, it sure wasn’t treated as a right forty years ago when elderly residents were getting taxed right out of their homes (and told this area was for young workers, not retirees) — an outrage the government did nothing to fix. And it sure didn’t seem to be a right a couple of years ago when the mortgage crisis caused people to lose their homes and the government to come to the rescue of… the money lenders. As for the present, I think it’s safe to say that, to the overstressed rent, mortgage, and property tax payers of this city, housing couldn’t possibly feel less like a right.

    When will our leaders wake up and realize the harmful effects that come from offering something for free? Isn’t Oakland, now on its forth generation as a city of free food and housing a sufficiently horrific example? Free hasn’t helped the city, it hasn’t helped the hard-working residents, and it sure hasn’t helped the handout-trained social cripples it created.

    But the most damaging commodity a community can make free is compassion, something that is as free as sunshine in this valley. Hundreds of thousands of self-deluded citizens consider themselves as having a compassionate and deep concern for the plight of the homeless despite their never having moved a muscle in the direction of actually helping. Their brand of compassion — and they are the 99 percenters, is the kind that expects and even demands that their good intentions become a reality via the efforts and resources of others. Like seemingly everything else, the bar for qualifying as a compassionate member of society has been so radically lowered that only ogres are excluded.

    Since I have no compassion for the homeless, and want nothing more for them but to be removed from my sight, I willingly concede that I am an ogre. If everyone in town felt like me our government agencies (council, cops, courts) would have no wiggle room to make the exceptions to the rules that have allowed these bums and lunatics to ruin our city parks, spread disease, foul our public sidewalks, and turn petty crime into a livelihood. But, of course, everyone doesn’t feel as do I, they just do as I do about the problem: nothing.

    This valley’s abundance of compassion has already turned this city into a homeless magnet, and providing those already here with housing will certainly attract the homeless who aren’t here; and they will show up, create new jungles, and await the arrival of another stupid politician and the next feel good wave of compassion.

    • Interesting perspective thank you for sharing. It didn’t occur to me to look at the homeless camps that way. I fear you are right though about building homeless housing because we saw that happen with Clinton’s mend it don’t end it welfare reform that many from other states realized they had limited time on the doll and that CA paid a higher rate. Of course they didn’t factor in the outrageous cost of living in CA.

      The gov’t needs to stop rewarding bad decision making. Not finishing school, giving in to drugs, alcohol, stepping away from family, not working all things that are choices. Even for the mentally ill, there are choices about treatment and continuing to not accept treatment.

      As far as housing being a right, I don’t recall it being a right when I applied for my housing loan 25 years ago, nor was it a right when my mortgage went underwater, nor was it a right to get a refi. I had to hunker down and figure it out or lose my home. No one advocated for my family to have the right to a homestead. Maybe I lack compassion too. I’d guess there are more ogres in our midst than are willing to speak up.

    • This approach reminds me of the children’s book, “If you give a mouse a cookie…” I once fed a stray cat, and she would not leave, giving us 4 more kittens to feed and find homes for. Feeding feral cats creates problems for communities and the animals. In no way think that I am in any way equating our homeless humans with animals… We treat our animals better! P.S. I donate to the Emergency Housiing Authority with every Amazon purchase I make. There are multiple ways to try to alleviate the homeless crisis without feeding them in our public parks and waterways.

  5. “The scheduled clean-up, apparently, was meant for the opposite side of The Jungle, on the other side of Coyote Creek.” Can the city hall bozos get anything right? How much do we pay SJ’s “homeless response coordinator”?

    From Blair: “What’s really missing in the care plan is “transitional housing” which helps people looking to better themselves…” The city needs to identify those folks and give them a leg up. As for the remainder, how long can taxpayers be burdened by those who refuse to help themselves? More Blair: “…is better than insisting everyone behave exactly as you dictate.” If they want to go their own way, fine; but at their expense, not taxpayer expense. Everyone speaks of rights, few speak of responsibilities. FinFan’s got it right—if you build it, more will come. Enough already!

    • I often wonder what the residents’ rights are when we are told by police that the panhandling, urinating, defecating, cursing transient “living” on our block has every right to do so. Really? I have been told to go into my house and don’t look out the window if it bothers me. Really? Is this why we invested in San Jose?

  6. Homeless? From whose perspective?

    They have a home. It’s the “The Jungle”.

    As I reported before, these people are living the lives that ALL humans lived 10,000 years ago. The are hunter-gatherers. They live in tribes. They are nomadic.

    IT’S NATURAL!

    People who drive on artificially flat, synthetic stone composite “roads” in vehicles made from smelted exotic heavy metals and synthetic materials made from petroleum, to engage in organized, collaborative production of goods and abstract services — such people are the freaks.

    Over the entire history of humanity, the majority of humans who ever existed, lived as tribalist foragers.

    And probably, the majority of humans on the planet today are tribalist foragers.

    One of the key distinctive attributes of foragers is that they live from one consumption event to the next. The have no concept of providing for future consumption, no concept of time, no real concept of “money”, and certainly no concept of the “time value of money”, or in esoteric terms, no concept of “capital”.

    To a forager, “money” is simply pieces of paper that can be exchanged for their next consumption event.

    People who understand “capital”, and use the attributes of “capital” and the rules of “capital” to provide for FUTURE consumption , i.e. “create wealth” are the creators of CIVILIZATION.

    No capital. No civilization. Period.

    Those who live their lives from one consumption event to the next are living a “subsistence existence”. I.e. they are POOR.

    Poverty is the NATURAL condition of human beings. Poverty isn’t something that was DONE to the poor by greedy capitalists. Without capitalists providing for future consumption, ALL humans would be poor.

    So one “solution” to the problem of the “homeless” is to “CIVILIZE” them.

    In Silicon Valley terms, the “homeless” are human computers with antiquated primitive software. Civilizing the homeless requires upgrading their software. So far, no one seems to know how to do this.

    Food vouchers, shelters, mobile showers and restrooms, fences around their “tribal land”, (i.e., The Jungle) simply don’t get at the problem. They just make fat, rested, temporarily clean urban foragers.

    Short of civilizing them, probably the best realistic answer for “the homeless” is simply mutual coexistence.

    1. Require the homeless to respect and not interfere with civil society’s processes for providing for future needs.
    2. Civil society provides “reservations” with minimal infrastructure for hygiene and health. Maybe the homeless “reservations” could be assigned to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

    • You make complete sense, and I agree with you. However, many “foragers” are mentally ill, and need much more than a software update. I regret the closing of mental fascilities. Our new and improved Community Mental Health program includes living on the street like an animal. They have been stripped of their humanity, and their existence now is far worse than living in Willowbrook, Agnews, or any other mental hospital.

  7. Since no one else is likely to do so, I will do the right thing and say it: there is nothing about the homeless people living in the Kelley Park jungle that qualifies them for the honor of being compared to our primitive ancestors. Early man had standards, not of the makeshift, politically-correct type so in vogue today, but standards put in place by nature, standards that punished and culled the weak and dysfunctional, lest they weaken the extant population and infect the tribal genome with their deficiencies. Suffice it to say, early tribes administered with compassion were rewarded by natural selection with extinction.

    The dregs of the Kelley Park jungle have nothing to offer society, most if not all of them having failed the primary test of human worth: to be valued by your own family. Many like to claim the right to live as they wish, without outside interference in the way of drug rehab, psychiatric assistance, or civilized rule. That does not make them rugged individualists, for any person worthy of that description would have no trouble finding plenty of space and freedom in any of America’s wild and uninhabited lands. Instead, the term that best describes them is parasites, firmly attached to places populated by the decent and hardworking. They are, at the minimum, offensive, and some of them are downright dangerous.

  8. > Instead, the term that best describes them is parasites,

    Parasites, foragers, hunter-gatherers, tribalists, urban aborigines, . . .

    There are numerous ways to describe and characterize the social survival paradigm of these denizens.

    Jennifer has chosen to describe them as “homeless”.

    Weird.

    She thinks it’s a real estate problem. Why not just get them realtors?

    • Read the paper: There is NO affordable housing in this Valley! The plain and siimple truth is that if you do not have a job, you cannot afford to live in Silicon Valley. We already have too many unregulated halfway houses downtown, and do not need nor want homeless shelters to add to our problems.

  9. this population of persons described as “homeless” etc is not a fixed number. If the city or any group were to somehow come up with enough housing for every person living in the Jungle it would not be enough. Why? Because once word got out that San Jose/SCC/Catholic Charities/any other group – was providing free housing we would soon be overwhelmed with new arrivals from all parts of the country wanting their free housing and the Jungle would just re-populate.
    Imagine you are sitting on a park bench eating your lunch. Soon a lone pigeon joins you for a scrap of bread. Within minutes a huge flock will join in for their free lunch.
    Its interesting that somehow our society can almost instantly come up with housing, medical and social services for thousands of recent immigrant children and yet we can’t seem to “fix” our homeless problems after decades.

    • I encourage people to talk to a lucid homeless person. I recently spoke to “Larry” , 55 years old and in a wheelchair. Diabetic, bu no medicine. Raised a ward of the state in Ohio. Classified severely retarded. Never held a job. “Lives” on the street. Will not go to what they call “Little Torture” (Little Orchard). Salvation Army won’t accept him because of his disabilities. He is here because Ohio is, “Too cold!” Yes, if we build it, THEY will come in even more droves.

  10. The message is housing is a human right. Make it affordable for everyone,we are all human beings needing the basic living food,shelter and clothing. The problem here in BABYLON is POWER,MONEY AND GREED. Once people open up and have a heart of compassion for others then we will see better days up ahead. Listen to this song. “IM MAN JUST LIKE YOU-WAR MONGERS” ARTIST RAS MICHAEL. May All the Mortals of The Universe based in San Jose,California and around the world be blessed with wisdom,peace,good health,joy and success in all of there future endeavors and affairs and may we see PEACE soon. Amen,and Amen. ONE PEOPLE. ONE WORLD. ONE LOVE. Bless Up.

    • Thank you Jahdev. You’ve perfectly articulated the opinion of the majority of our city council. Seeing to it that anyone in the world who says they want to live in San Jose can afford to do so has been and will continue to be the fundamental principle guiding San Jose’s growth.
      It’s really been working out well, don’t you think?

  11. When I take several steps back from the rhetoric and attempt to view this from a big picture perspective, I see that that the real problem lies with our system of government and corporatization/privatization of the land available to human beings in the United States. 100 years ago, land was offered to “homeless” homesteaders if they were willing to pay a small sum OR do the work necessary to tame the land (build a home, farm it, provide good stewardship). More and more, available land is now being regulated out of usefulness by our government, so that even open spaces like this parking lot referenced in the article are “claimed” for the surrounding community and are deemed unavailable to the homeless. Meanwhile, thousands upon thousands of empty buildings are being allowed to rot around the country simply because they are owned by the banks who can’t find anyone who wants to pay $$$,$$$ for them. Why aren’t homesteader options being made for these properties? Why aren’t the poor being offered an opportunity to clean up a neighborhood, restore these homes, become stewards of a community – all of which are activities that could provide these people with the hand up they need to recover from their condition of poverty and rejoin civilization if they wish. Why is our government being allowed to hoard land and block access to it when many of these federal properties could be used to offer homestead opportunities to the willing? For all the rest (those whose diminished mental capacity and physical infirmities mean they cannot help themselves), they will quickly be identified as the truly vulnerable population that needs society’s assistance to continue their borderline existence, however that may be determined. One of the other commenters made a good point – even ancestral hunter-gatherer populations had community standards. These groups had to create a home in order to survive. No one came along and provided them with a FEMA trailer if they failed. So why do we expect any less from those who are physically able, but just CHOOSE not to provide for themselves, and why does our government REFUSE to provide these able individuals opportunities to take care of themselves?

    • At the risk of sounding redundant: Too many in the homeless population are mentally ill, and/or addicted to alcohol/drugs. There is no way they can take care of themselves!

    • Unfortunately, too many in the homeless population are mentally ill, and/or addicted to alcohol/drugs. They cannot take care of themselves, but we expect them to. Do we expect a two year old child to get a job and housing? Adding to the problem is that there is nowhere to take care of them, now that all the mental and dependency hospitals are closed, and the weakest have been pushed into the streets.