Water District Allocates $1.4 Million to Clear Creekside Homeless Encampments

A report on homelessness in South County this past month painted a bleak picture of daily struggles to protect a Gilroy watershed that disrupts and disperses tent communities of homeless people. At a joint Aug. 21 meeting of the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board and representatives of the cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, district staff reported that in the first seven months of 2018 there were 571 homeless camps cleaned up along county creeks—far surpassing the yearly average of 400.

Staff reported that water district ratepayers had funded $1.4 million for cleanups of homeless encampments this year, mostly along two streams, the Guadalupe River in San Jose and Llagas Creek in Gilroy. The district had authorized funds for just 52 clean-ups per year. The report detailed the increasing number of clean-ups the water district has been conducting on homeless encampments that exist on district property. The clean-ups, take place throughout the water district but are most frequent in Gilroy and San Jose, said district staff at the joint meeting.

The report detailed ongoing efforts to form partnerships with other agencies that work with the county’s homeless. This included $15,000 in grant funding awarded to the Gilroy Compassion Center by the district.

The grant for the center is meant “to provide year-round outreach to homeless individuals living at target hot spots along South County Creeks. The outreach teams will provide information, encouragement and incentives for homeless individuals to keep toxic materials, garbage and waste out of the waterways.”

During a recent clean-up operation along Llagas Creek, a water district crew, accompanied by a large waste truck, removed piles of garbage, waste, trash and personal belongings left near the creek, which parallels Holsclaw Road east of Gilroy and is part of the Pajaro Valley watershed.

The compassion center has been critical of the water district’s clean-ups. The center’s board chairwoman Jan Bernstein Chargin said the center applied for the grant and anticipates beginning a program this fall. Chargin says what leads to the homeless encampments is simple—a lack of housing for those in need. “The big problem is there are human beings that don’t have a place to go.”

She said the big question now is, “What are the harm reduction activities we can do?”

Chargin said she hears from the community that they want to be involved in the clean-up efforts. For the water district, however, it’s a matter of keeping the streams clean and responding to residential phone calls about homeless people on water district property.

Sue Tippets of the district presented the Aug. 23 report and said, “It’s challenging to decrease encampments when homelessness is on the rise.” As for why most of the clean-ups are taking place in San Jose and Gilroy, Tippets said, “those happen to be the locations where most of the encampments are located.”

When conducting the clean-ups, the water district posts notices 72 hours in advance in the sites. Depending on the time allotted, the district may come back the next day to ensure that everyone has moved.

Carlos Tovar is in charge of all of the clean-ups. He said the district and the workers it contracts look through every item that’s thrown away to ensure no personal belongings are present. However, Chagrin said some of her clients have told her their belongings have been swept up during the clean-ups.

Chargin said at the joint meeting that the people living in the encampments often did not move their things in time because they’re not physically capable. She said many suffer from physical disabilities or chronic diseases that stop them from moving their things before the 72 hours.

The definition of a personal belonging that can be stored is narrow, Tovar said. Blankets, tarps and tents, for example, don’t count and are tossed. Tovar said if clothes were clean in a suitcase, they would be stored or left at the end of the clean-up site to be claimed. Bikes that are in a usable condition are also stored, but if they’re missing chains or wheels they’re thrown out.

The Gilroy police officers that accompanied Tovar and his team at the Aug. 24 clean-up said the items taken and stored are rarely reclaimed.

At the meeting the water district reported programs it had piloted or was considering to mitigate the effects of the encampments aside from the clean-ups. Tippets said the district had tried putting dumpsters near some encampment sites, but that program was deemed unsuccessful.

Chargin disagreed. She said the excitement among her clients over the new trash cans was palpable. Chargin said those living at the encampments were happy to have the trash cans and told her they would use them.

Chargin and the center also hoped to get portable toilets in certain areas of the encampments, but Tovar said that wasn’t possible. He said if the toilet were to flip over, the chemicals inside would contaminate the water.

At the meeting Gilroy City Councilmember Dion Bracco, said the clean-ups didn’t seem to be alleviating the problem and advocated for a stricter approach to dealing with the encampments.

Renee Spring, a councilman from Morgan Hill, said at the meeting, “At the end of the day we’re talking about human beings today.” He advocated for looking for alternatives to the clean-ups or for additional mitigation measures to implement.

Tovar said he has seen the number of encampments in Morgan Hill increase in recent months as well as surrounding water district properties throughout the Bay Area.

As to mitigation, Chargin said the center’s upcoming program will be focusing on “cleaning and education.”

The water district was set to adopt a recommendation on the encampments at an Aug. 28 board meeting. The first recommendation was to allocate 90 percent of revenues from renting district-owned properties to the clean-ups. The second was to ask the board chair to write letters to city mayors and the chair of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. The letters would ask for “increased police and security support for homeless encampment cleanups and to patrol waterways to prevent re-encampments.”

Gilroy already provides police protection with the district clean-ups. Marty Grimes, a district spokesman, said the police presence was necessary.

“It’s getting really dangerous out there,” he said.

Typically there are two officers present at the Gilroy clean-ups who go first when entering encampment areas before the crew arrives. At the joint meeting, Gilroy City Administrator Gabe Gonzalez said the city had spent $32,000 in overtime this year for police officers to accompany water district crews to the clean-ups.

This article originally appeared in the Gilroy Dispatch, one of San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley’s sister publications. 

10 Comments

  1. > Water District Allocates $1.4 Million to Clear Creekside Homeless Encampments

    $1,400,000 ? OUTRAGEOUS!!!

    Here’s what they SHOULD have spent:

    100 acres for reservation in North Dakota: $100,000
    Bus transportation for 2,000 hobos, San Jose to North Dakota. ($50 per hobo): $100,000
    Lifetime supply of macaroni and cheese, ($200 per hobo per year, for three years): $1,200,000.

    I admit that the mac and cheese budget seems a bit lavish, but the big picture is that it as a non-recurring, one-time expense that solves the problem, and allows San Jose to move forward with the business of being civilized.

    • Or better yet, send them to Milpitas garbage and recycling.. not to bury them, but for better settlement. Hobos are apparently attracted to trash, there is plenty, check! Hobos are like to produce trash, no need to clean up, check! and Hobos need plenty of open space, check!

    • The areas the homeless are living are already areas that are closed for public access, they are all trespassing which is basically what the stop program is, a way to say this person is trespassing, they can’t be here anymore. SJPD doesn’t care about environmental crime or the destruction of the creeks. They won’t even come out when they’re called most of the time

  2. It’s time for the water district to hire and train a full time security force whose function is to constantly patrol water district properties and roust out the illegal campers BEFORE they have a chance to get established.
    Commercial and private property owners do what it takes to responsibly manage and protect their real estate holdings. Why is it that our government agencies can’t seem to figure out how to perform this most fundamental duty?

    • They essentially had this. It was called the San Jose park rangers. They contracted with the City to have Rangers do patrols. Rangers would go in to an area, first offer services to the homeless, then post the area for cleanup, then return with a maintenance crew who cleaned the area. If they ran in to people who had already been given a warning and offered services, they may ticket the person, or arrest the person for an environmental crime or drugs or whatever else. This is the only time in the last 10 years or so that Coyote Creek has been not totally destroyed. What they were doing worked.

      What happened? The city refuses to give them the safety equipment to let them do their job. So now they’re banned from the area. The rangers are sworn officers with a full Police academy but the city won’t give them firearms. Why? Who knows. No good answer. But now our creeks have been abandoned. SJPD doesn’t care about environmental crime or trudging through dirty creeks. This was a rangers bread and butter but our moronic city management and the parks managers/directors have allowed criminals to run the show. This problem could be solved, easily

      • I agree with you that this problem could be easily solved but that would mean holding somebody accountable.
        The problem is that our entire bureaucratic Goverment Industries business model is totally based on avoiding accountability.

  3. Bus them all to redstate america…a one way ticket…would be far more cost effective

    • > Bus them all to redstate america…

      Mr. Livingston:

      The hypoxic BLUE states created the hobo problem.

      They will continue to own it until they become RED-white-and-blue states. Step one toward becoming a RED-white-and-blue state: wear a RED hat that says: #MAGA

  4. clean-up operation along Llagas Creek, a water district crew, accompanied by a large waste truck, removed piles of garbage, waste, trash and personal belongings left near the creek, which parallels Holsclaw Road east of Gilroy and is part of the Pajaro Valley watershed.

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