‘Hope Village’ for the Homeless Served with Eviction Notice Two Days After Setting Up Camp

Like thousands of Silicon Valley’s unsheltered residents, Charlie Nelson dreads the 72-hour notice. In the five years since losing his job and apartment in Campbell, the 63-year-old handyman has moved from roadsides to riverbanks and back again at behest of those three-day eviction orders.

“You lose something every time,” he laments.

San Jose Hope Village offered a break from the perpetual sweeps. The privately funded encampment—a fenced-in enclave of tents, a portable toilet and sanitation stations—sprang up Saturday on an empty parking lot across from an abandoned traffic court at Ruff Drive and Hedding Street. But not two mornings passed before the authorities gave Nelson and six other homeless campers at the site a 72-hour notice to pack up and leave.

This time, however, Nelson won’t go quietly. That’s because Hope Village is as much a political statement as a practical response to the city’s homelessness crisis.

“We knew we didn’t have permission to be here,” says Peter Miron-Conk, the 72-year-old co-founder of Casa de Clara Catholic Worker and one of a few-dozen volunteers who spent the past eight months planning Hope Village. “But we also believe that the current conditions of the homeless here are untenable and inhumane. This is a reasonable alternative that should be accepted by the city, the county and the state.”

Though the state, Santa Clara County and local cities have supported permanent housing and tiny sleeping cabins for the homeless, they’ve resisted calls for sanctioned encampments. Meanwhile, various local agencies—the Santa Clara Valley Water District, CalTrans and San Jose, to name just a few—spend millions of dollars a year on clearing out un-permitted camps by waterways and freeways. The water district alone spent $1.4 million clearing out unsanctioned camps from January to July this year.

Miron-Conk, whose first acts of civil disobedience date back to the anti-nuclear movement of the 1960s, says he got tired of waiting for the blessing of politicians and took matters into his own hands. The concept that became the Hope Village pilot started as a series of discussions with a handful of other residents back in January. In a matter of months, the group launched a website and published a sleek pamphlet to present their idea to people with resources that could turn their vision into reality.

Hope Village organizers wanted to prove that an encampment could be clean, orderly and effective as a short-term fix for homelessness. They selected a rarely-if-ever-used parking lot surrounded by open fields to the north and east of it and a brick building occupied by the state Employment Development Department (EDD) to the south.

Volunteers raised about $30,000 to buy supplies for the experiment, including a netted cyclone fence for privacy, wood platforms to place under each tent, fire extinguishers, sanitation, lockboxes and other necessities. They established strict rules against drinking and drugs, carefully screened the first participants in the pilot project and put Nelson in charge of keeping the site safe and clean. At capacity, they planned to host up to 30 people at the site—each in their own tent.

“It’ll be nice to have somewhere to stay while I look for a new job,” Nelson said Saturday while taking a break from setting up camp to pet his Chihuahua-whippet mix, Lucky. “Normally, I’d have to figure out where to hide my shopping carts while I go out applying for jobs so things don’t get stolen.”

Two years ago, he had to drop out of class at San Jose City College to deal with the chaos caused by one of the many sweeps he went through, he says. If he’s not ousted by the federal marshals on the train tracks, it’s the park rangers along the watersheds, sheriff’s deputies by the light rail and San Jose police anywhere else in the city.

Now Nelson has to worry about the California Highway Patrol seizing his possessions if he and the others don’t decamp by the time officers return Thursday morning.

Hope Village sits on state land, a swath of asphalt that was once overflow parking for the long-shuttered traffic court across the street. And though the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that local governments cannot arrest or prosecute the homeless for sleeping outside if they have nowhere else to go, it does nothing to prevent civil enforcement such as eviction, confiscating a person’s belongings or writing them up for violating health and safety codes.

This morning, someone from the EDD office showed up and asked Nelson what he was up to. Nelson told the woman that he was part of a special project, and then relayed her queries to Miron-Conk, who was already on his way.

“I showed up about 15 minutes later and she asked some of the same questions,” Miron-Conk says in a phone call a couple hours after the incident. “We told her it was a special project, and then the CHP arrived. They were friendly and everything, but said, basically, ‘this is our job,’ and all that. The sergeant was the one who gave us 72 hours to leave and said if we don’t, they’ll have crews come out and dispose of everything.”

The folks who spearheaded the effort—who, besides Miron-Conk, include Jacquie Heffner, Edie and Robby Brodsky, Karen Lattin, Andrew Lanier—are trying to rally the public and convince elected leaders to help them stand their ground or find a new site. In a statement penned before Hope Village even opened, they explained that they were willing to trespass on state land to call attention to a systemic failure to adequately address the homeless crisis.

“The reality, for the residents of Hope Village, is that there is no legal place for them to go,” they wrote in an open letter dated Sept. 8. “So we say to authorities who would close Hope Village down, where are the homeless to go? Provide us with a suitable location with the legal right to occupy it and we will be happy to move.”

Otherwise, they say, authorities will have to take them away in handcuffs.

The open letter ends with a call for “all persons of conscience” to join them in protest, which will come earlier than anticipated. In light of the eviction notice served today, a rally is planned for 5pm Tuesday at Hope Village, 1010 Ruff Drive in San Jose.

Hope Village, an experimental homeless camp, has just 72 hours to pack up and leave.

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

40 Comments

  1. This is absolutely ridiculous. The people living in Hope Village have been screened and hopefully, they will provide proof that this is a great short-term fix for the homeless problem.

    It costs over $10,000 every time they do a major sweep and all of the stuff is taken from the homeless. Then charities replace it. What is the point of doing this?

    Let them stay for six months and see if Hope Village can be part of the solution for the homeless.

    • Mr. Miller,

      Rent a bus and ship all the homeless north to help fight fires. If they have been screened I’m sure they are fit enough to use a shovel and intellectually fit enough to follow directions from a fighter fighter who will be more than happy to have the help and who can direct their work. These homeless saints do want to work, don’t they?

      After that, let them set up an encampment in the areas they have just cleared or saved from destruction. Set the camp near one of the many streams and if needed, I will even show them how to dig a latrine and set a snare for small game. They can figure out how to fish and cook over an open fire on their own, the same way that Neanderthals did. Adapt or go the way of the Neanderthals. The human being is the only species that coddles its “culls”. It’s not natural.

      • JS Robillard I expect to see you next Sunday near Ruff Drive where human beings come and provide showers and food to the homeless. Many of the homeless do work, but they can’t afford housing. When people are down on their luck, in the American tradition, we help them out.

        • Mr. Miller,

          I say this without sarcasm; You sound like a very nice person but I am afraid you are only enabling these people who are just living off the milk of human kindness. Yours is a noble gesture but one that will only encourage and not solve the problem. I work and I can’t afford housing either so I drive 70 minutes, one-way, to get to my job but no one ever talks about affordable housing for those who actually pay the bills with their tax dollars. Why do politicians pander to those who don’t pay taxes and contribute nothing to solve their own problems? There are plenty of jobs for unskilled laborers and the homeless are free to take one of those until they can get “back up on their luck”.

          • J.S. Robillard,

            You are willfully ignoring the well-established fact….that a lot of the homeless, in this area, already have jobs, and are paying taxes. Homelessness, in this area, is not caused by unwillingness to work, but due to astonishingly high costs of rent, as well as the fact that corporations, in this area, do not provide benefits sufficient to help employee survive financial downturns.

            Even more hurtful, is the fact that many of the residents in homeless camps, are older workers, who face age-discrimination, in hiring. While they were employed,….they paid the taxes that paved the roads we drive on….but, now they are being belittled, because employers in Silicon Valley, famously, won’t hire them, again.

            We should be extremely thankful, for the visionaries behind Hope Village…who have contributed so much to our community!!

        • Mr. Nguyen,

          I used to go to Church but no longer do . I believe in God and that He created us but after seeing the evil men do, I seriously question whether or not He cares any longer about those He has created. Let’s not go all theological here but if Someone with the power to stop it allows his only Son to be tortured to death by Roman scum, how much less must He care about us insignificant pieces of dust blowing around the garbage dump of humanity. I hope I’m wrong, and I may well be, but going to Church isn’t going to prompt a change or stop the savage things people do to each other nor can they stop it themselves by feeding or showering a homeless bum. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, don’t teach him to fish and feed yourself. Fishing is not that hard. It’s not better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. Why light the candle at all, there’s nothing to illuminate but pain.

    • Hopefully they were screened better than the thousands of “asylum seekers” Obama let in.

      • The argument has always been that we need these “asylum seekers” to provide cheap labor and to “do the jobs Americans won’t do”. Well, Americans “won’t do these jobs they won’t do” because someone is there to do it for them and Americans then “don’t do the jobs they won’t do” because they don’t have to do it, they just go on public assistance.

        Why do we import unskilled, illiterates who don’t and/or won’t learn to speak English (multiculturalism aside), English is still the official language of our country, (except maybe in California ), and being able to speak English is then still one of the components needed for success. Why do we import poverty, we have plenty of our own. The only true asylum seekers in the U.S. right now must surely be those fleeing Chicago.

  2. I second Robert Miller’s idea. From the photo of Hope Village, managed by its occupant Charlie N., it looks like a clean, well cared for area with carefully screened people living in small tents. It offers help for the basic needs of its community, a group which is quite obviously passionate and well motivated to be in a safe, drug-free – and feces-free – community. I hope that the citizens of San Jose and its surrounding cities will back such an endeavor for our homeless neighbors.

  3. > The privately funded encampment—a fenced-in enclave of tents, a portable toilet and sanitation stations—sprang up Saturday on an empty parking lot across from an abandoned traffic court at Ruff Drive and Hedding Street.

    We’re making progress here.

    Good idea. Wrong location.

    First of all, can we agree that “Hope Village” is simply a “homeless reservation” by another name. Good.

    Next, we need to locate “Hope Village” in land more suited to its use. For example, North Dakota. Or Hanford, Washington next to the decommissioned plutonium works.

    Both offer great pricing that likely suit the budget of Casa de Clara Catholic Worker.

    And then, simply provide safe, efficient bus transportation to “New Hope Village” and we’re done.

    Why was this so hard and why did it take so long?

  4. I applaud Hope Villiage. The city is being ridiculous–not thrilled with spending my tax dollars to chase the homeless around instead of providing them services and employment. Sad that so many fellow citizens lack all compassion and glad they are the distinct minority. Hope they find other places to live where they don’t have to be bothered with other humans, if living here in San Jose’s diversity is so “off-putting” to them.

    • > Sad that so many fellow citizens lack all compassion. . .

      Kelly:

      Isn’t “compassion”: a religion based principle.

      Doesn’t basing public policy on religious principles violate “separation of church and state”?

      Tell us more about your compassion. What is the basis of your compassion? Who does your compassion encompass?

      Should the city council require “compassion” even if people don’t feel compassion for people who have willfully made a mess of their lives?

      Do you feel compassion for people who have willfully made messes of OTHER peoples’ lives?

      Do you take any responsibility for the messes made by people who are the objects of your compassion?

      Have you cleaned up any poop piles produced by homeless people in public spaces? Or, is this something you want those who lack compassion to pay for?

    • Sad that so many fellow citizens lack all compassion and glad they are the distinct minority.

      They’re certainly not a minority on this apparently unmoderated website. Take a stroll through http://www.sanjoseinside.com/tag/homelessness/ articles, and you’ll find them overrun with the likes of SAN JOSE OUTSIDE THE BUBBLE and J.S.Robillard, et al, and their toxic contempt for fellow human beings; while those humanitarians who once tried to post here have left. Why San Jose Inside allows this without even pushing back in the comments section is a good question, since the site’s owner, Dan Pulcrano, purports to be a humanitarian.

      Due to the overabundance of toxic comments, I rarely visit here, but facing possible homelessness myself now, with cancer and an over 60% rent increase coming up, I do check on the homeless articles and it revolts me every time I read the utter contempt these bitter, toxic regulars spew. One gets the impression that these posters wouldcull the homeless themselves if they were able. As to J.S.Robillard (see above) digging latrines, and roughing it, I highly doubt he can even bend over much, since all him and his crew seem to do is sit 24/7 at their computers — lying in wait for, and maligning, any discussion about not treating humans like insects in this increasingly cruel, corruption filled, unaffordable valley. Although, I must say, J.S.Robillard setting snares (likely the crude, most torturous, steel traps) to traumatize and cull, those less privileged does fit to a tee.

  5. The general idea is sound, and is very workable, except that you cannot just homestead on any piece of land without clearance and authorization. The location is otherwise good, being far enough away from residential areas, so there should not be much in the way of opposition.

    Improvements to this idea would be to use insulated storage shed structures, instead of tents, as tents will not work for winter conditions. Sheds are the preferred structure over tiny homes, due to the lower cost and investment. Each should be outfitted with a bed, light, electrical outlet and storage for possessions. These sheds can be easily repaired or replaced if vandalized or damaged by the occupants. And occupants would be responsible for any damage they cause.

    The sanctioned camp site would be built and managed by a government agency, such as the City or County, since these would be tax funded. Supplemental support would be provided by select non profits and faith agencies. The central camp location also makes it easier to provide medical and other support services to help provide the occupants overcome addiction issues and provide vocational skills.

    The site would also include a central restroom and shower facility, and an outdoor, covered eating area. All of this can be supplied with low cost temporary structures, or with modified shipping containers outfitted with these improvements.

    As with the camp in the story above, the camp would be secured around the perimeter, with drugs and alcohol strictly prohibited. This camp would provide a form of transitional housing to get those that are motivated to get off the street and help them with the first critical steps in getting integrated back into society.

      • JMO: All of my tax dollars, and yours, in one form or another are currently paying for some type of care, enforcement, and policing of the homeless….with absolutely little to show for it. It’s time to spend that wisely on some real solutions, and get the most rehabilitatable back in to some form of employment.

        But I know you are being snarky and mean how much am I personally contributing. This is a multi-million dollar problem, and it’s getting worse.

  6. It’s not like the city has an abundance of other options to offer these folks. Really, what’s the harm in letting people be in this space that’s been created and managed by private resources? At least give it a chance!

  7. I wondered how this eviction happened so fast—it was the CHP/state police. In contrast, the City has abandoned the Coyote trail and creek from Tully south. No cops, no rangers. Hope Village could set up there and no one would come–ever.

  8. Being ‘state land’ it’s really Jerry’s call…and it would be decent of him on his way out of office, what with his Jesuit education, to make this small gesture for the poor instead of freeing up all those killers.

    • Mr. John K,

      While many of these ideas may have been previously mentioned, they bear repeating as they have potential as a “Final Solution” to the homeless problem.

      First, the City must identify a prime piece of real state, preferably in Willow Glen since this is where most of the “compassion community” lives. There, a “Solutions Center” should be established for the first phase of the homeless improvement process.

      At the “Solutions Center” homeless “clients” will be interviewed to determine whether or not there might be family members or other acquaintances who would be willing to forgive the “Client helpee” for past mistreatment, assaultive behaviors and/or molestations of family members and/or friends and neighbors and determine who among this latter group might have sufficient means, compassion and inclination to help.

      Following the anticipated 99.99% failure rate of “clients” processed at the “Solutions Center”, the next step would be to post photos, biographical information (and in small print, criminal records; drug use and mental health histories) online on a sort of “Wino-list” website (similar to Craigslist or e-bay). Here, the truly compassionate can page through the various “clients” and personally pick out one to adopt, provide employment for, or give a monthly donation toward the care and upkeep of the chosen individual.

      With the likely 99.99% failure rate of the “Solutions Center” and the “Wino-website”, the remaining alternative would have to be a Quonset hut village designated “Camp Desperation” (An 80’ X 80’ Quonset hut, with doors, windows and insulation, sells for about $60,000; cable TV and wi-fi could be donated by a compassionate charity group). “Camp residents” will be provided with portable showers, toilets, and food rations. Clients who wish to do so and are not too overweight, drug dependent, or lazy to do so, may even choose to grow their own food (Marijuana cultivation would be officially prohibited but not strictly enforced). For a nominal fee, members of the “compassion community” would be allowed to visit these inhabitants, feed and groom them and possibly interact with them in a supervised “petting zoo” enclosure.

      This seems to me to be the most practical “Final Solution” to the homeless problem. It will lessen the financial and tax drain on the working public, those people who do the work, in contrast to those who won’t do any, and it will allow the City to maintain infrastructure like filling street potholes with asphalt instead of filling homeless “potholes” with public assistance money, too often transformed into cigarettes, fortified wine and drugs.

      And finally, at the entrance to “Camp Desperation” there should be something that would help preserve their dignity and remind us all of the (real or imagined) contributions that the homeless have made to our society. At the Camp 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.

      There should also be a plaque that would honor the memory of all those homeless men and women who died of alcoholism and drug overdoses, particularly those who purchased the latter substances with public assistance money. Next to the plaque, there should be a statue of a disheveled homeless man laying face down in a puddle of his own urine, with a unavoidably noticeable brownish stain on the back of his pants, while a somber policeman looks sadly over the unfortunate soul, next to the words “Because We Didn’t Care Enough”

  9. Yeah, unfortunately they should have kept in mind that Sam Licardo is a heartless _____fill in the blank.

  10. There needs to be more done by government at all levels to create more homeless shelters/camps in the Bay Area and state — so that we dont’ end up with results like this, where people simply seize land that they don’t own and have no right to use, and try to homestead there.
    San Jose could emulate Oakland, which is creating more tuff-shed camps, to temporarily house the homeless as it works to find more permanent solutions for them. Or take a page from San Diego, where large canvas tents sheltering many dozens, even hundreds, have been set up, at much lower expense than it would cost to dedicate a standard building to homeless shelter.

    State, county and national funding needs to be given to the creation of a network of shelters and homeless services, so that anyone who ends up homeless, can be directed to a place with open beds in its shelter.

    I can empathize with the frustration of those who are struggling to find somewhere to go, but unfortunately the constitutional right of the homeless to sleep in public places, as mentioned in this article, does NOT allow people to seize land and set up permanent camps, and essentially start homesteading on public land. If it makes you angry that people can’t just seize a plot of public land and set up permanent housing, then consider for even a moment what would be the consequences if this were allowed. We’d have no public parks left. It should be patently obvious that seizure of public land, based in an argument of need or any other argument, cannot be permitted.

    As well, even though it would be ideal if every homeless person could be sheltered, in any given city, this article demonstrates why it can actually be a problem if one city starts to do more in that respect than other cities in the area: https://homelessquandary.wordpress.com/2018/08/26/guaranteed-shelter-for-all-all-will-come/

    That article shows the need for a regional approach to this problem, rather than a city by city approach, in order to avoid bankrupting a city and making it a magnet for homeless from other cities, counties, even states.

  11. I’m not sure what caused Charlie to lose his job and why he has gone for so long without one. But he’s obviously a man with knowledge and skills. Handymen are in great demand and aren’t cheap. If he and others like him want to become productive citizens once again, can’t the government form a consortium to help them start their own small mobile businesses? It would be cheaper than indefinitely hosting these unsightly shantytowns on public land and giving endless handouts of food and welfare benefits. There aren’t many places which are far away from private homes and no one wants to see their property reduced in value because there is a squatter’s camp in the neighborhood.

    I used to be strongly in favor of forcing the homeless out of the city until I met and became personally acquainted with a young man living in the woods behind my house. I freaked and called the cops, which I later regretted. Luckily they were understanding and just warned him not to smoke or start campfires. My wife and I helped him out, charging his phone and computer and giving him some canned food and refilling his containers with filtered water. He is doing better today and is no longer homeless.

    I also understand that there are some people who refused any kind of constructive help. They only want money for booze and drugs. I say throw them out because they ruin things for other homeless people who sincerely want to improve their situation.

  12. So anyway, setting up camp on government land (in this case State land) is not permitted due to safety and legal concerns.
    I’m sure the do gooders like San Jose City Council members are aware of this but also refuse to let those who wish to use city land for any use have similiar concerns. It would seem providing employment should be at the top of the politicians list for those who choose to work

  13. Horrible pre raid surveillance Mr Miron Conk!
    If your village were on the south side of Hedding St, in city land, you would have been guaranteed unmolested civilization. Move now and assure your longevity. Liccardo is an anemic feckless mayor who would never uproot you as long as you declare your village the sancutary city.

  14. I used to be strongly in favor of forcing the homeless out of the city until I met and became personally acquainted with a young man living in the woods behind my house.

  15. Hope Village is a much better idea than Villas on the Park. It seems authorities want to concentrate homeless in the city core.

  16. 6 sacred hobos living for free with people using their hard earned money that they worked hard to support these bums.
    Now they want to use tax payers money to keep the sacred hobos doing nothing so they can watch them taking a nap and doing nothing safely for 18 months.
    Dude just go to the closest encampment and do exactly the same thing without involving tax payers money.
    This is a big scam and illegal squatting! Follow the rules and get in line like anyone else.
    If they don’t do drugs help them to find jobs and not being squatters. Maybe pay for some motel rooms with that money and find jobs for these guys!
    Squatters!!!!!

  17. first let me start by saying as of 10 months ago i was one of those homeless people out there on ruff drive. i use to have a camp by old oakland rd “Jurassic Park” , behind pick n pull, along side of 880 n highway between 1st n 4th st, and skyport next to the airport. my point is all those camp sites all those yrs NO ONE EVER CAME DOWN and asked US HOW WE AS HOMELESS PEOPLE HOW WE CAN BETTER THE SITUATION for our self n our living situation example the trash issue the bathroom waste what are some issues or ideas that basically our view point as homeless people what can we do to help not just making the decisions for us when you dont know how or what we do to survive on the streets NOT ALL OF US ARE DRUG ADDICTS not all of us are bad yes those who are mess it up for us who are just trying to survive on a daily bases and it is surviving im a female who was out there alone i lived with no one i been thru every situation u can think of yet i am here today . i just wanted to say that while i as out there all those yrs i just wished someone could of sat me down n helped us help all you who have a problem with homeless people like i read up above in comment work together since i went in doors everyday i pray n thank god and i sit here and try to do research and go out n help in any way i can to pay it forward or to help out my friends my family that are still on the streets. maybe someone can just listen long enough to hear our side our neds or if some of u who like above commented on shipping us off in a bus wt…! you know it says in the bible the meek shall inherit the earth but then again maybe karma will have you be the one to drive the “bus “.

    The Homeless Club

  18. First of all, can we agree that “Hope Village” is simply a “homeless reservation” by another name. Good.

    Next, we need to locate “Hope Village” in land more suited to its use. For example, North Dakota. Or Hanford, Washington next to the decommissioned plutonium works.

    Both offer great pricing that likely suit the budget of Casa de Clara Catholic Worker.

    And then, simply provide safe, efficient bus transportation to “New Hope Village” and we’re done.

    Why was this so hard and why did it take so long?

  19. Not everyone is blessed with basic school knowledge or has family to help or guide them thru life in which comes hardship, struggle, especially with the bay area costs to survive period. The city has so many abandon or available areas,spaces to NOT ENABLE in somes words but PROVIDE SAFE FOUNDATION WITH RESOURCES TO ASSIST THOSE LESS FORTUNATE.

  20. > Not everyone is blessed with . . . . family to help or guide them thru life . . . .
    > The city has so many abandon or available areas, spaces . . . .

    RACHEL:

    I think you are witnessing the consequences of the “liberal” ethos: promote family disintegration and replace families with government “spaces”.

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