Posted by on February 5, 2018
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Categories: Bay Area

(by Melissa Hartman) – During the first day of cleanup of one of San Jose’s largest homeless encampments under the junctions of Interstate Highway 680 and U.S. Highway 101, a rally led by local homeless advocates called for a different solution to the city’s homelessness epidemic besides relocation.

Pastor Scott Wagers, one of the organizers and an advocate for the homeless in the area for more than 25 years, led the protest that called for a better answer for “Silicon Valley’s ongoing humanitarian crisis of housing and homelessness” than evicting the homeless from underneath the freeway junction.

“I know about 80 percent of the people in this camp,” Wagers said. “From ‘The Jungle’ sweep in 2014, these people moved to another strip of land in a cul-de-sac by McLaughlin Avenue to here. And now they’ll be going back to that location, even though Caltrans put a wall up.”

Wagers estimated about 100 people were there to support the efforts.

He said he believes that the problem is not being given enough attention because the city is ashamed of the homeless population in the wake of the area’s growing technology industry.

“They represent failure and economic downturn, so consciously or unconsciously, they are not treating the homeless like their brothers and sisters,” he said.

Wagers said some have named the Felipe Avenue encampment “Googleville,” “in order to highlight the tech industry’s flagrant irresponsibility.”

“They’re spending the money, but not creating the solution. They’re moving the problem instead of stabilizing it,” he said.

Caltrans arrived on Felipe Avenue at 4 a.m. to start clearing the area and California Highway Patrol officers arrived at 7:30 a.m. to do a preliminary sweep, searching the area to find any remaining people and warn them that they need to leave, according to Caltrans spokeswoman RocQuel Johnson.

Caltrans estimates it will take at least a week to clean up trash and provide security measures for the strip of land, like replacing fences that have been torn down or damaged, Johnson said.

If any other factors of the perimeter that serve as a safety barrier are found broken, Caltrans is responsible for those repairs since they are “conservatories of the state,” she said.

Johnson said that a homelessness task force has been out at the site every day since notices of evacuation were issued to the homeless to help them find the resources that they need.

The clearing efforts were supposed to start last month, but theagency has been working with state Sen. Jim Beall’s office to provide extra assistance to those affected by the notices, according to Johnson.

“I have been working with Caltrans to commit more comprehensive contracts that do more than evict the homeless but channel them to the support services and shelter they need,” Beall said in a statement.

The normal notification of eviction is granted 72 hours beforehand, but this area was notified a month beforehand, Johnson said.

Caltrans is starting their efforts near the end of the property closest to the freeway exit and moving its way all the way around to where the Highway 680 to Highway 101 loop begins.

Because of the expansive amount of area, it may take Caltrans more than a week to complete. However, Johnson said that they will be at the scene every day until debris is gone.

Caltrans is working with California’s Conservation Corps to redo landscaping of the area.

Advocate Gail Osmer has tried to work with Beall’s office to stop the evacuation and declare the site a legal encampment. She offered herself to come with a crew to clear out the garbage that had accumulated, but the
offer was not accepted.

“We need to stop this,” Osmer said. “They are violating people’s civil and personal rights.”

Osmer said that the city or county could come in and lease the property for the homeless, and she hopes that in the future it’s an option they will consider. She called for dumpsters and portable toilets at the minimum for an estimated 70-100 homeless people that lived in this area and may return after the Caltrans operation.

Both Perry and Osmer said that the last sweep done of the area was at least six months ago, and garnered more attention when more homeless settled underneath the junction.

Osmer said that when the Caltrans clearance is over, advocates will come back to try and see if there is a way to establish a legal, organized encampment.

photo credit: Scott Wager