Police Clear Out Homeless from ‘The Jungle’ in Massive Sweep

“Honestly, I’m scared,” Veronica Mackenzie says, her eyes darting around to take in the commotion: police, protesters, photographers, TV news trucks and barricades. “I knew this was coming, but it came too soon. We’re still trying to figure out where to go.”

Just before 6am Thursday, San Jose police put up barricades along the sidewalk to prevent anyone from going in after they clear out The Jungle, a 68-acre shantytown at Story and Keyes roads. It’s been called the largest homeless camp in the nation. Beyond the barricades, dozens of reporters, local and international, watch while the sun rises. Protesters with signs face the street.

“Housing For All.”

“Stand with The Jungle.”

“Homeless People Matter.”

The city has spent $4 million housing the homeless over the past 18 months, according to San Jose officials. Almost as quickly as people move out from The Jungle, more move back. Estimates before today put the population at close to 300. Dozens of cops on Thursday patrolled the sweep, keeping traffic at bay while guiding evicted homeless residents up from The Jungle and out to the streets.

The city says 144 of The Jungle's residents have found housing, but 50 with rental vouchers haven't found anywhere to go. The rest, scores of them, are on their own. Even with the encampment closed, Santa Clara County is home to more than 7,500 unsheltered people on a given night.

San Jose has struggled to keep its hundreds of homeless camps under control. As a result, The Jungle has become the most populated location in recent memory. It's strewn with festering trash, human waste and so much pollution that the steelhead trout have all died off in Coyote Creek.

For some residents, especially young women like Mackenzie, The Jungle is considered safer than sleeping on a sidewalk. Life on the streets can be dangerous. She keeps an eye on her belongings, positioned at the top of the mud-slicked slope that leads to the sopping creek-side village she’s called home for most of this year.

“My dad basically disowned me, so I moved in here,” Mackenzie explains. “I grew up in San Jose, born and raised, but don’t have anyone else to stay with.”

For the last eight months, she says, she and her boyfriend, aunt and uncle have lived at The Jungle. At sunrise Thursday, Mackenzie helped them haul up seven cargo-laden shopping carts, a plastic hamper and a frayed burgundy suitcase stuffed with clothes and other belongings. She’s wearing cropped jeans and a black zip-up hoodie. On her clavicles, a tattoo reads “most hated” in cursive. It’s not too cold today, she says, but she worries about more winter nights. She needs warmer shoes and a thicker coat.

Her pit bulls, a brindle named D.O.G. and a white one called Solo, are tied to a pole while the family decamps.

“Some people were scared about animal control coming in here and taking them away,” she says, crouching down to pet them. “These two are definitely coming with me, wherever that is.”

Earlier in the morning, a man on crutches hobbles onto the flooded street-level parking lot. Police are finishing up placing metal barricades, ordering all TV news vans to relocate across the street. Time to clear out, time to clean up.

“Give us one more day!” the man on crutches shouts. “All we need is another day! You going to arrest me for trespassing? I’ve been trespassing for five years!”

For more photos of the exodus, take a look at this gallery from Silicon Valley De-Bug.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

25 Comments

  1. Where are our community churches, the VA, Pastors, and millionaires? They need to be part of the solution.

    • Oh come on Kathleen, you know how this all works. These people aren’t voters, they don’t contribute to the donation plate. It’s not a sexy issue to tackle.

      I could have fixed this.

      • “I could have fixed this”. Please, oh please, tell us how, Cousin Cortese.

        • I explain it down below but I’ll give you the condensed version.

          We have a ton of commercial real estate in North San Jose along 1st street that has perpetual “For lease” signs on them. We have the old San Jose hospital. We have tons of empty buildings that for $4m would get us at least a 20 year lease with plenty of money left over to start up some services. Counseling, food, etc.

          I’m a little irked that we had $4m, but we’re spending it all on hotel vouchers. Seems like a move to limit the cities liability. What happens when these folks run out of vouchers? Who’s responsible?

          No one.

          See what they did there?

    • Agree! If all the churches in downtown would open their doors to homeless, especially at night, we could help solve this problem. But being hypocritical Christians, they prefer to feed transients in parks away from their churches. People from Cupertino come to hand out sandwiches in Saint James Park… a good way to keep the homeless out of YOUR neighborhood.

  2. Is this a misprint? So far the City has spent $4 million to house 144 people, or about $28k /pp?? Tax paying and law abiding citizens cannot even get SJPD to respond to 311 calls, nor can we get burglaries investigated. One way or the other, an accounting or audit is needed to understand just what services the City is getting from these public-private agencies that want San Jose tax dollars to help solve a County-wide homeless problem that San Jose alone seems to have a disproportionate share.

    And it is past time for San Jose to tighten its shopping cart ordinance and no longer allow stores to use cart retrieval companies to collect shopping carts. This has simply not worked at all, and only has compounded the homeless problem by allowing the large-scale collection of junk to be brought to illegal encampments. All carts should be fitted with wheel lock technology to prevent carts from being removed from store lots. And when carts formerly used by the homeless do find their way back to the store, who ensures that they have been cleaned? The store certainly has no way of knowing, so tax paying citizens, and their children, are again ignored.

      • That’s nice and all, but what about land? Where can we put these containers? Also, homeless people are like the majority of people, they want to live close to their resources. With San Jose real estate prices so inflated, we’re not going to find a single landlord willing to rent at reduced (but guaranteed) section 8 rates. Even empty land, there’s issues of infrastructure that needs to be built. Porta John’s aren’t a long term solution. Extension cords running every which way isn’t either.

        What the city should have done with the money is create a barracks style shelter from one of the many many many available, and empty business buildings in and around 1st street stretching all the way out to Alviso. Waterfront tower is approaching a decade of non-occupancy. There are many such buildings all around San Jose with a perpetual “For lease” sign on them.

        Now could the city have found such a building for market rates? I think so. A 10k sqft building in San Jose can be had for around [email protected] now, and easily would have housed 100 people. Instead we foolishly throw them into the N First street hotels around Gish, which already have drugs, prostitutes, and all sorts of things that aren’t going to get these folks mainstreamed back into society.

        Heck, even the old Blank Club building could hold quite a few cots.

        • I think finding (city/county/state-owned) land to place structures like these OR use the existing real estate is the least of the problems. The political correctness however is the main culprit. We need to get our act together as a society, face the truth and admit that none of the decade long “feel-good” programs have worked so far, in the US, Canada or the EU. In fact, they were counter-productive and have worsen the situation even further.

          Mentally and physically disabled need to be evaluated and placed in the appropriate institutions. Don’t have them? Build them!

          Everyone else: work rehab community (aka. earn your right to housing/food/services).

          Fun Fact: “When you add the $550 million for public safety and nearly $500 million for healthcare, the total cost for illegal immigrants to (LA) county taxpayers exceeds $1.6 billion dollars a year.”

          Source: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/09/16/undocumented-la-county-parents-projected-to-receive-650m-in-welfare-benefits/

          And that’s just ONE county….

          • I believe “The Jungle” has been described, in the media, as possibly the nation’s largest “homeless encampment”. However, it would be more accurately described as the nation’s largest “pigsty” or “crack house”. I have seen landfills that were tidier and fresher smelling.

            Absolutely the “homeless” are human beings and we feel sorry for them but even most woodland creatures don’t take dumps where they, or others of their group, eat, sleep, walk or live and most will at least bury it afterwards.

            I’m sure that churches and charities would open their doors, as they have in the past, and county shelters would be accessible too, if the “homeless” (nowadays often a euphemism for drunks, junkies, the violent mentally ill or all of the above) would follow the rules set down for all residents while at such facilities. Simple rules such as: No drinking; No smoking cigarettes, weed, crack, crank; No shooting up heroin in the bathroom; Confine all bodily functions to the bathroom; No sex on the floor in front of everyone else, including children who aren’t too young to figure out what is going on underneath those blankets; No foul or racist language; No groping; No indecent exposure and no bullying or fighting with the other residents.

            And please don’t tell me these things don’t happen. I’ve had to deal with them first-hand. I believe that churches and charities are working, more or less quietly, with various homeless groups but resources and facilities are not unlimited so such are only open to those who can behave, which likely means about 1% of the homeless population and probably 0% of the former Jungle’ population.

          • We closed all the mental hospitals, and turned the land into prime real estate. “Community Mental Health” has been a flop, to our detriment. When is society going to accept the fact that the mentally ill are unaware of their state or situation, and need to be taken off our streets and into a health facility?

  3. I think mr. coertese is right!and i don’t believe the number is that low,and a large part of the problem is blatant age discrimination in the job market: any one 50 0r older is finding it harder and harder to get a job,and the new faceless form of job on hunting: having to apply on line, which always requires making up some pass words, subscribing to some linc or web page, that often doesn’t work for some reason or other, if your computer’s too lousy or your not that computer savy it doesn’t work

    • > and a large part of the problem is blatant age discrimination in the job market: any one 50 0r older is finding it harder and harder to get a job,and . . .

      This is really difficult and complicated problem, and I put a large amount of blame on Democrats because they have been running the show for six years, and longer in places like California and Detroit.

      Some of the big things that Democrats have done that have really created the employment disaster for post-50 year olds are:

      1. Open borders/illegal immigration. I know a contractor who has just been destroyed by all the illegal aliens now doing the work that he used to do.

      2. Destruction of the energy economy. Obama was quite clear that his policies were necessarily “going to make electricity prices skyrocket.” He said that anyone who opened a coal-fired power plant would be “bankrupted” by regulations and government harassment. He has obstructed the Keystone XL pipeline for his entire term in office.

      American workers are (were) more productive (and more valuable) than workers in other countries because they provided the brains and skill to operate advanced machines that used abundant energy. Take away the abundant energy and the valuable workers and advanced machines sit idle (I. e. “unemployed”).

      3. Destruction of the manufacturing economy. Increasing the cost of energy, and increasing government regulations was a double whammy that told American manufacturers that their businesses and their jobs were NOT welcome in Obama’s America.

      When efficient and refined manufacturing process can’t operate in the U.S. — AND MAKE A PROFIT — they and their jobs go to places where they can operate AND MAKE A PROFIT. Obama and his lunkhead economic advisors just don’t care.

      Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt, many working Americans bought into the narrative that Roosevelt — and Democrats — were the “friends of the working man”.

      “The times, they are a-changin'”. If that were ever true, it’s not true today.

      The Democrats are NOT the friends of the workingman. The are the friends of the college professor/academic class, the Hollywood/media class, the trial lawyer/lawsuit class, the rich trust fund child “environmentalist” class.

      If you’re a 50-year old, formerly employed in America worker, you’re probably not academic, you’re probably not a movie star, you probably don’t win big lawsuits and donate to the Democrat Party, and you probably have a big carbon footprint and waste energy.

      Who needs you?

  4. I propose a low-tech/high-tech approach toward dealing with the homeless.

    — The low-tech: Locate a suitable building or two for use as a processing area. Dub it, the “Solutions Center,” and use it as the first place to go to get off the streets. Important, wonderful things will happen there (see below). Next, find a large plot of vacant, barren land and set-up a tent camp (I’m envisioning something off I-5 in San Joaquin County, something ugly, like the Army is so good at finding). Designate this area “Camp Desperation,” use it as the end of the line — the place for those whose housing problems were not solved at the Solutions Center. Provide portable showers, toilets, and food rations, and invite the whole of the compassionate community to visit these desperate inhabitants and help them find a way to a better life.

    — The high-tech: At the Solutions Center guests will be interviewed so as to identify any family members who might be willing to forgive the homeless “client” for past mistreatment of loved ones and step up to help. After that fails (99.9%), biographies of each homeless person (along with descriptions of their dogs) will be posted on the internet (maybe on Craigslist type site… Bumslist?) so that the hundreds of thousands of truly compassionate valley residents can peruse them and select one or two to help personally, either by finding them employment, housing (a spare bedroom, perhaps?), or a cash donation. These bios can also be sent to hometown newspapers so that appeals for help can be made to the many friends the homeless person may have left behind (another 99.9% fail rate). After a few weeks, any homeless person who has not been provided a solution will be deemed “unworthy of compassion” and given the choice of being transported to Camp Desperation or returning to the street, where they will be treated to zero tolerance by cops/prosecutors (expand the jail farm).

    This program will, of course, be voluntary (only productive Americans lack freedom of association), and participation may be considerably less than 100%. But because it will offer a shelter solution to each voluntary participant it will free the government (and the taxpayers) from legitimate accusations that it has ignored the problem. In addition, it will also make San Jose a less attractive option for the bum community (open your arms, San Francisco). Lastly, it will provide one faction of this community an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate the compassion it so loudly and proudly touts, while freeing the other faction from being forced (through confiscatory taxation) into adopting an endless stream of freeloaders who think they are owed a living (in one of the most expensive places on earth).

    • Mr. FINFAN, sir,

      Yours is the most practical and appropriate solution to the homeless problem that I have yet seen. However, I believe you left out one very important aspect that should be included at “Camp Desperation”. There should be something that would help preserve their dignity and remind us all of the contributions that the homeless have made to our society.

      At the Camp Desperation entrance, there should be a monument: “The Tomb of the Unknown Wino”. Here there would be an eternal flame, fueled by the constant combustion of illegal drugs, cheap wine, and most importantly, an endless stream of tax dollars. A plaque would honor the memory of all those homeless men and women who died of alcoholism and drug overdoses, both substances they purchased with public assistance money. Next to the plaque, there would be a statue of a disheveled homeless man laying face down in a puddle of his own urine, with a load in his pants, while the statue of a somber policeman looks sadly over the unfortunate soul, next to the words “Because We Didn’t Care Enough”

  5. It’s absurd to characterize the “Jungle-ists” as “homeless”. It makes the presumption that they have “problem” and that the solution is to put them in contact with a good Realtor(tm).

    They are likely “normal” human beings — at least normal for ten thousand years ago — when ALL humans lived lives as nomadic hunter-gatherers.

    And that describes the Jungle-ists exactly: they are only “homeless” because the don’t have permanent homes as the settled producers and traders of Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills would like them to have. Just think of them as American plains Indians, or as Bedouins: they carry their homes with them, on horse drawn sledges, on camel back, or in shopping carts.

    There is no reason to believe that the urban tribalist foragers are “unhappy” or “suffering”, just as there is no reason to think that Bedoiins are “unhappy” or “suffering”. They are just an annoying nuisance to those of us who have embraced settled, trade-oriented, private-property based civilization.

    Just think of the Jungle-ists as culturally primitive human beings who are “late adopters” when it comes to civilization. They either don’t know the rules or conventions of civilization, or the choose to reject them.

    In any case, providing them “shelter” or “welfare” is not the solution to their “problems”. Such “solutions” just look to them like successful foraging.

    And if there is one universal principle of human existence that spans all ages and cultures, it is: “Successful behavior is repeated.”

    More shelters, more services equals more “homeless”.

  6. Bubble,

    Once again you do a disservice to our ancient ancestors by equating to them the pond scum of today’s society, the homeless. The hunter-gathers were tribesmen in the best sense of the word — fully-integrated, valued members of tribes governed by rules (customs/traditions), not irresponsible rule-breakers who owe their existence to the tolerance of others, and spend their lives beholden to nothing other than their own peculiar whims and desires.

    Today’s homeless are the unwanted side effects of political freedom, something that did not exist 10,000 years ago.

    • > Once again you do a disservice to our ancient ancestors by equating to them the pond scum of today’s society,

      Mr. Finfan:

      I think you are confusing our ancient ancestors with the Sierra Club.

      The Sierra Club likes fresh air, hiking, hugging trees, and eating trail mix.

      Out tribalist forager ancestors liked killing and eating things, including members of other tribes who were foraging where they shouldn’t.

  7. If anyone feels sorry for the dismantling of the Jungle, remember all the Steelhead Trout in the creek are dead.

    • Mr, DOWNTOWN Dweller, sir,

      You are correct. The steelhead trout have been killed off by the homeless due to their constant stocking of the waterways with their own creation, the “Jungle Brown Trout”. The EPA restricts the flow of water to Central Valley farmers who produce a massive amount of food (The valley produces about 80% of the global almond crop) because it might affect the population of the (non-native species) delta smelt but the EPA gives a pass to the homeless who themselves produce nothing.

  8. I wonder how many of the people with “Homeless People Matter” signs took one of them into his/her home on a long term basis? I’ll put the over/under at one, and I’ll take the under.

    • I suppose if you don’t consider “renting a room” as taking someone into your home… of course that would make this into an economic issue, rather than one where folks like you can judge other’s worth.

  9. the previous article in SJI concerned the city getting into the regulation of the Airbnb business. the city might consider giving license to these AirBnb places permission to operate providing they accept a given number of homeless vouchers per year. there wouls be an ongoing supply of places to sleep/stay throughout the year. Right Jen?