Op-Ed: Welcome to The Jungle, Where There’s Abundant and Affordable Housing

This morning, the city of San Jose conducted another unnecessary sweep of a homeless camp, this one at Olinder Park, a 13-acre expanse of fields, picnic sites and dog runs along the Guadalupe River and Woodborough Drive. Officials say it’s for a trail renovation—the same reasoning they cited for a November sweep at Roberts Camp, where roughly 40 to 50 people were evicted from the only home they knew.

These sweeps further traumatize our most fragile residents, the same people who are at greater risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a recent University of Pennsylvania study, unhoused people who get Covid-19 are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require intensive care, and two to three times as likely to die than the housed population.

In response to “should homeless encampments be cleared?” the February 2021 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines state: “Connecting people to stable housing should continue to be a priority. However, if individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living in encampments to remain where they are."

There’s no equivocation in that, no allowances for trail renovations. Clearly, the CDC values human life. If only the city of San Jose did.

Even though the city set forth a policy that sweeps would cease during the pandemic to reduce the spread of Covid-19 by allowing unhoused residents to shelter in place and help save lives, they have continued to conduct the systematic displacements.

Everyone loves nature’s beauty and trails are a good thing so people aren’t trampling all over tender plants and animal habitats. Just like it’s important to find a balance in the natural work, it’s important for the city of San Jose to find a balance between our unhoused neighbors and nature.

Councilman Raul Peralez, under pressure from downtown property owners, is exacerbating the problem by calling for a resumption of “encampment abatements.” Camp sweeps without providing safe alternative locations are not only oppressive and traumatic, they solve absolutely nothing.

And if we have learned anything at all from the Black Lives Matter movement, it is that we have to STOP using police actions to solve social problems.

We’d like to offer an alternative plan, one that actually focuses on the lives of unhoused people rather than big business, trail improvements or other concerns.

We also offer this to aid city and county staff who are already overworked, under-appreciated and often unheard.

  1. Santa Clara County must agree to conduct the Point In Time (PIT) count to accurately assess how many of our neighbors are unhoused. Each week we go out to serve unhoused neighbors in camps, we see more and more folks unsheltered, in tents, RVs and cars than the week before. With no way to properly capture the numbers, we would be relying on the U.S. Census Bureau numbers which were, at best, inadequate .
  2. Unhoused advocates and volunteers, including those who do the post-PIT survey, must be recognized as the frontline workers they are and be vaccinated immediately, preferably with the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Covid-19 vaccine.
  3. Unhoused people must be prioritized for vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson’s Jassen Covid-19 vaccine, through a program of in-camp vaccinations. It is unreasonable to demand vulnerable, unhoused people to schedule online appointments and travel to vaccination sites .
  4. The county must then conduct the PIT count and post-PIT survey.
  5. San Jose should create a Sanctioned Camp Task Force composed of four equal groups: San Jose city representatives, service providers, advocates, unhoused and formerly unhoused residents. The task force would first assess the de facto sanctioned camps that have been created during Covid.
  6. Once all the de facto sanctioned camps have been evaluated, the task force will determine which camps will remain as official sanctioned camps, which would receive  help via Beautify San Jose, and which will need other remedies. No camps would be relocated without all residents who wish to, being vaccinated first. Additionally, the alternative location must be sanctioned and open to all residents who wish to move there.
  7. After the de facto sanctioned camps have been sorted out, then the task force would address the remaining camps to see which might become sanctioned camps.

This plan will take a while, but the clear benefit  is that it is  focused on our most fragile and vulnerable residents, and ensuring they are counted, vaccinated, and served. If we don’t even know how many unhoused people live in our communities, the county will not get the necessary funds without which, folks will remain outside and unsheltered to die.

It goes without saying that there isn’t a homeless problem, there’s a “lack of affordable housing in Santa Clara County” problem.

The county keeps lauding its work with utilizing Measure A funds to build housing, but the amount of housing they open each year doesn’t even keep pace with the annual unhoused death rate (198 people in 2020), while it takes years for each building to open.

San Jose, meanwhile, keeps patting its own back over these tiny/modular homes, but again, all the sites combined don’t keep pace with the death rate.

In our work in the camps, creeks, sanctioned and unsanctioned safe parking areas, shelters, etc., the number of unhoused folks has exploded during this pandemic year.

In addition to the 2019 lowball estimate of 10,000 unhoused people, the increasing number of newly unhoused people due to loss of jobs during the pandemic are spelling a disaster for our communities.

This dramatic increase in the camps means we have many more newly unhoused neighbors. They’re our restaurant workers, our frontline workers who got Covid, our retail workers, folks who were illegally evicted, etc. Many of the same people who represent the existing 10,000.

In 2014, the city shut down The Jungle, said to be one of the largest homeless encampments in the country, with nearly 300 people at the time.

When it was shut down, the residents were scattered through the area and lost community, belongings and support. At the same time, neighborhoods that had not experienced camps before, were suddenly inundated by them as people sought refuge anywhere they could find a place they felt safe.

With today’s camp sweep, you have to wonder what San Jose considers progress.

The Jungle is already rumored to have over 100 people trying to shelter and survive there and the unhoused people being swept from up and down the creek will surely just move back to The New Jungle. And it only took San Jose six years to get back to the beginning.

Shaunn Cartwright, Nassim Nouri, Sandy Perry and RJ Ramsey are members of URG, the Unhoused Response Group, which has provided outreach, survival items, and delivered nearly 6,000 backpacks that contain food, Covid kits (hand sanitizer, masks, Covid information specific to Santa Clara County unhoused community), hygiene kits, snacks, warm goods, menstrual kits, water and more to encampments, FEMA hotels and safe parking areas throughout SCC. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

24 Comments

  1. San Jose should defund the Housing Department before putting a city charter change to the voters to eliminate the Housing Department entirely.

    All pernicious, predatory-parasitic Nonprofit and Public benefit corporations; all wrap-around-services should also be defunded. The “free” money will run out.

    These groups are part of the Homeless Industrial Complex. They profit on the homeless Wean them from the public’s trough..

    How many “Homeless people” have the “Unhoused Response Group” welcomed to stay permanently in their homes? Scr*w their ideas and useless commentaries.

    The Homeless have smart phones, they go where the freebie are the greatest.

    Enact a “Get-along-little doggie” program. Keep the Homeless moving out of the Bay Area. The use of cattle-prods; you’d be surprised what a little nine-volt battery can do.

    “Zero tolerance” for vagrancy and illegal camping.

    Every time I allowed the “Unhoused” to camp on my land, I got screwed over with; trash, needles, thefts, vandalisms and other vagrants taking advantage.

    David S. Wall

  2. The City of San Jose threw the first punch…..

    Like myself, and thousands of other homeless people, San Jose did them dirty by stealing their belongings.

    SAN JOSE NO LONGER ISSUES PROPERTY RELEASES (Dick Move)

    They take the Car…. The Motor Home…. Your Bike….Your Back Pak….Your Cell Phone…. And whatever else they can get their claws in on…. That’s ROUND 1….. 1st timers….

    These are illegal “Civil Asset” forfeitures that pretty much pay for things like a “New” chopper…. drones…cell tower simulators… and most of all…. The Morgan Hill Mafia’s Leisure Lifestyle….

    Then the cycle continues over and over again until you are living in creek strung out on dope (Meth)

    The City will never make these people whole again and or return their property. The Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office will also ignore this shady behavior and do nothing to fight for your stuff.

    Just a heads-up folks…. Internal Affairs and the Independent Police Auditor will work side by side to make sure your complaint gets buried…. All they do is protect the City from Liability while making you think they care. They don’t…. be careful making a recorded statement with them….. it will be used against you in court… No Attorney Client Privilege….

    In my opinion you deserve this SAN JOSE for what you have done to these poor people.

    This is why the worst of the worst destroys anything that is associated with the CITY of San Jose….

    I would still like to know where my Father Ashes are at San Jose?? Or how about every god dam thing I own?? Oh…..Thanks again for filing multiple law suits against me for protesting this despicable behavior. Not to sure what else you want to take from me?? You’re the Best!!!

    Maybe…..just maybe…. The public can take the time to understand the situation before jumping to judgment so fast…. Everyone on the streets has a story….

  3. Must be about midway through a new month, Shaman Cartwright and her acolytes are out shaking down a publicity stunt. Guess everyone’s got to make a living.

  4. It took four of those crumbums hours to write that ‘woe is us’ treatise. Think of how those man-and-woman hours could have been spent looking for jobs, or moving to the Salton Sea, even.

  5. Excuse me….but when sanctioned encampments come there will be no piles of trash and debris or makeshift shelters or old RVs and, yes boats, among the unhorsed. Just a tent, a shower and a bathroom. The public’s issue is not with the homeless, it’s the trash thats at issue.

  6. We need a Marcellus Wallace approach:

    You gone or be gone

    Your homeless privileges in San Jose are revoked.

  7. The homeless seem to gather trash from receptacles and bring it to where they live
    . Anything they have of any value ( like my bike) is stolen anyway

  8. There’s a positive feedback loop here.
    The more the City does to help the homeless, the worse the homelessness gets.
    You really want to stop homelessness? Stop helping the homeless.

  9. I commend advocates for the unhoused for their proposals,and agree with many of their points particularly about the drop in the bucket response from the City and County, but ask them to also consider that their cause could gain broader support by recognizing some of the concerns the public raises – and targeting some solutions toward those concerns.

    The Guadalupe River Park and many of our open spaces and public right of way are literally trashed. I don’t know how the creeks and rivers can even be cleaned up at this point. It is that bad.

    If your position is polarized to the point where you think anyone should be able to do anything anywhere, then that is a problem for most of the general public.

    Maintaining the public right of way and helping the homeless can all be done in parallel.

  10. You clearly don’t leave near this monstrosity or you would understand the crime, violence, and trash that required this cleanup. Now they just need to do Coleman and Hedding before someone else is knifed to death.

  11. The city is NOT taking away people’s motorhomes. Some people should go out and about, and observe what’s going on. Homeless, that are not COMPLETELY DESTROYING the areas they take over , are being left alone. I work for the DOT in San Jose, so I’ve got the actual facts. When you use emotion, and ZERO LOGIC, to try and solve a problem, you make things worse…..
    Just like Joe and the Hoe are doing at the border.

  12. I’m commenting just to highlight how within so many of the people commenting on this article you can find the seeds of authoritarianism, abetted by an individualism that turns an eye away from the fact that when one in our community falters, we are all affected. I wonder how these protofascist sentiments even reconcile with the values this nation holds, that I’m sure these commenters claim to uphold. Just get a look at what David S. Wall wrote about using electric cattle prods to displace fallen community members… wouldn’t the Third Reich be proud of this way of thinking? Before claiming to defend liberty, capitalism and democracy, check your impulses to use the violence of power to deny access to those things.

  13. Mr Resident

    clap clap clap

    you win the Godwin’s Award for today

    if you think youre being original, youre not

    if you think government intrusion with the aid of government sanctioned non government organizations deters nazi-ism, youre wrong again, they are its enabler

    if you think that relying on the individual, the church, and the direct charity of citizens is nazi-ism, youre wrong again, those are the antidote

    wake up, gop states handle homeless far better than California

    tough love is the only cure for it, you cant make someone take care of themselves unless they want to, and all these employed homeless in san jose would more than likely own a home and do well in a red county in any red state

    so enough with your vitue signalling while you preside over a problem that can only get worse with the “cure” being implemented

    be gone you hypocrite!

  14. We need more sweeps of the vagrant camps. These camps are poisoning the drinking water and spreading disease due to unsanitary conditions. The city spends $10 Million a year on the homeless problem and has housing solutions but people in the camps won’t use those programs.

  15. I’m replying to “Mr Kulak” just to laugh at their projection in their comment about my thoughts. I never said anything against individualism, and while I do think this country leans quite a bit too far in that direction, I am not saying I approve of “government intrusion” either. This is a false dichotomy lol. Democrat-run cities have mismanaged the homelessness crisis, but I would not put a GOP member in charge of “fixing homelessness” either. My comment still stands that there’s a strong thirst for authoritarianism within so many people, who at the same time talk about freedom and democracy. That’s my observation and the comment I initially responded to was yet another example of it. Mr Kulak never addressed this. Just a big straw man.

  16. SJ Kulak,
    Unfortunately I’m not as clever as you, so I’ll request your assistance in providing awards for the following acts of illiteracy.

    Clap, clap, clap ….
    Historical illiteracy-
    Do you know anything about facism or its roots? Could you define it? Do you understand its language, its symbols?

    Clap, clap, clap….
    Philosophical illiteracy..
    Reliance on individualism, government intrusion, what are these things? What do they constitute? Why are they good? You seem to be virtue signalling yourself.

    Clap, clap, clap…
    Economic illiteracy…
    Divisions of labor required by modern societies eschewed any possibility of reliance on the individual, whatever you might mean by that idea.

    Clap, clap, clap…
    Comprehension illiteracy…
    Your response to the letter illustrates an inability to understand what was stated in the letter to which you responded as your own letter does not address what was actually written.

    Clap, clap, clap…
    Definitional illiteracy..
    Do you know the definition of hypocrite? Even if the person writing the letter had provided some proposal, which, again see above, the person did not, your belief that this supposed policy would result, unintentionally, in what this person hopes to combat, is not hypocrisy.

  17. I am on both sides i took amtrax train and all i seen was homeless camps my concern is if your homeless thats one thing. ” but why would you have all the trash around you” …san jose,ca looks dirty everywere
    And yes san jose is too expensive to live there if your not killing your self to have a roof over your head …rents are crazy even in the messed up neighborhood s. They should keep helping the homeless .and get on landlords to clean up there property if they charge rents that are outrages for were the neighborhood is start to fine the land lords. To clean up there act also keep san jose clean …..

  18. San Jose Resident… what’s with all these big words that even I can’t pronounce?? Does that make you feel better.? I couldn’t understand a word you said or what you meant.
    But honestly… not all homeless are on drugs but the majority are. I was homeless almost 4 years and never once ended up there because i knew what was down at the creek. Luckily my homelessness ended…and I didn’t have to use big words to get it.

    Frustrated with the whole thing is what i am..but something needs to be done. Covid or not…

  19. If only we could get cattle prods for people like David S. Hall. Villifying the homeless isn’t a sign of high intelligence but hey, leave it up to idiots to waste a lot of their time commenting anecdotes in light of all the information we have by now on the unhoused communities. Instead its internet soap box blah blah blah about how cheap they are over paying taxes and how much they like to punch down on disadvantaged people. Hopefully they got off on their not so humble brag. If only we could get rid of these kind of people we could solve the unhoused problem.

  20. We don’t have a homeless problem in Wyoming. Why? Because housing is affordable. A home costs too much in California. It’s ridiculous! In Wyoming, homes are priced correctly, and prices are alligned with the cost of living which is lower than California. Minimum wage is relatively the same in any state, and if the cost of living is alligned appropriately, people who live there can afford to live in a home. But California is off the hinges with how expensive it is for everything to just exist. Why can’t property owners lower the rental amounts of their homes to more reasonable amounts so people can afford to live in a house? Why do property owners have to charge insanely high amounts for rent, so they can keep getting wealthier while their tenants keep getting piper? That’s where California’s homeless problem truly stems from. California should refocus it’s priority to providing a good and just opportunity for everyone involved.
    The quality of life for everyone increases drastically when people have a home to live in. They feel secure and safe.
    They tend to keep a job, pay their bills, and sleep in a bed at night, because they have a roof over their head. Property owners should want the same thing that homeless people want.. Quality of life for everyone, everywhere! If everyone’s goals about housing were alligned, there would be no homeless problem.

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