This is a story and photo album I put together about the largest homeless encampment in the continental U.S. It’s in San Jose not far from the favorite city park where children (including mine) have played, held birthday parties, and visited the zoo for generations.
To read the original post and see the photo album, click here.
The encampment on Story Road, also known as the Jungle, is large and growing. We recently visited with staff from our Outreach and Encampment Intensive Case Management teams. Our staff goes to the encampment every day offering handshakes and smiles to fearful, isolated people, snacks to the hungry, hygiene items to help restore health and dignity, referrals to medical care for the sick and injured, and services to the willing. (See more photos below the article.)
On this day, the area seems more quiet than usual. Many leave there in the morning for jobs, something that it’s hard for the general public to believe. Yes, many of the homeless work (or get public assistance or veteran’s benefits) and still can’t afford rent and other living expenses in Silicon Valley.
The population appears to be growing and the trash is piling up higher than ever. There is no sanitation and the smell can be overwhelming at times. A sick woman waits in pain, groaning on an old beat-up until the ambulance comes to take her away. Fortunately, a nurse and doctor from Valley Homeless Health Care Project of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center are with her. Other people ask us for food, and happily accept free bags of toiletries as well. Some just look at us and move away, not wanting to talk. A woman told us there were gunshots during the night, which caused people to hunker down in fear throughout the morning. The threat of violence is ever-present in this place.
As authorities “sweep” (clean-up and remove) people from other, smaller encampments, more are reportedly coming to Story Road each week. We are hiring more staff and increasing our presence there. If a resident agrees to a survey and registration done on the spot — sitting on rocks, old chairs, or any available surface — they are invited to come into the shelter for a nightly bed or just for a meal and a shower. Sometimes just the offer of a chance to recharge a cell phone is enough.
But sometimes nothing will entice them to come to the Boccardo Reception Center. They turn down the offer of shelter for many reasons. One woman wants to stay with her fiance, also homeless, and be reunited with her eight-year-old daughter, who is living with a relative. Another has a beloved pet she can’t be parted from. Another man suffers from mental health problems and feels he can’t live in close proximity to so many others. All know that the minute they leave, everything they own will be taken and used by others.
But day after day they tell us that they would willingly leave for an apartment. Or even just a room in a house. Some place private, safe, clean, and quiet. That’s our goal: Housing First. Get them into an apartment or home of their own and from there, give them support and services to stay housed permanently.
The City recently gave us an overview of their efforts to address the problem of Story Road. Despite severe constraints on resources, the City is doing all it can to work with us and our community partners to solve this issue.