San Jose clears out the Jungle, but it won’t end homelessness-SF Gate

Published 6:00 pm, Sunday, December 7, 2014
The Jungle Image

Crews begin the clean up process at a homeless encampment known as The Jungle Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. Police and social-workers on Thursday began clearing away one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments, a cluster of flimsy tents and plywood shelters that once housed more than 200 people in the heart of California’s wealthy Silicon Valley. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The Jungle, a ramshackle 68-acre homeless encampment in San Jose, was a national embarrassment. For years, as many as 300 people lived in filthy conditions along a creek bed just minutes away from the downtown’s shiny high-rise tech headquarters. The Jungle was notorious as a symbol of America’s new economy of haves and have-nots, as well as for the number of residents. It was one of the largest homeless encampments in the country.

Last week, San Jose officials cleared out the camp, hoping to put an end to one of the city’s more difficult sagas. There were good humanitarian and environmental reasons to shut down the site. Crime rates were rising in the camp as more people moved in, and pollution from the camp was poisoning Coyote Creek. But clearing out the site is only the first step in a long process for San Jose and the rest of the region.

 According to Ray Bramson, San Jose’s homelessness response manager, the Jungle was San Jose’s largest camp — but not its only one. “There are about 1,230 people living all along the city’s waterways,” he said. “San Jose has an enormous unhoused homeless population.” And the city’s skyrocketing housing costs (the average rental apartment within 10 miles of San Jose was $2,633 in September, according to mean that it’s likely to have one for a long time.

In contrast to San Francisco, San Jose’s “housing first” policy is relatively recent. The city has little in the way of service-supported homeless housing and only passed a housing impact fee for developers, to fund affordable housing development, last month.

The good news is that city leaders are serious about tackling the problem.

San Jose is planning to build its first downtown facility with housing and services for the homeless, and the city has a new public-private partnership to come up with solutions. As for the people who were living in the Jungle, the city was able to find at least transitional housing for many of them, and services “for everyone who requested them,” Bramson said.

It’s a problem that requires a regional solution. It’s not just San Jose that needs to build more homeless housing. It’s all the cities along the Peninsula, too.

The Jungle Image 2

Grace Hilliard, who has lived in a homeless encampment for about 15 years with her Chihuahua, Lucky, in San Jose, Calif., Dec. 3, 2014. On Thursday, city officials sent in crews to clear out the Jungle, as the encampment is known, after finding more permanent quarters for the homeless inhabitants, an effort that was only partly successful, with at least a third of the residents not placed. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

The reason why land is so expensive in the Bay Area is not the fault of any one city — it’s a regionwide issue. The Bay Area has a shortfall in affordable housing that is not being addressed in too many communities.

Cities are unable to invest in housing even for middle-income people, much less buy properties to house the homeless.

Until the entire Bay Area is willing to relax overly restrictive urban planning codes, overcome NIMBYism and build more housing, the regional homeless problem is going to keep growing.

San Jose was right to clear out this camp, which was dangerous to human and animal health. But unless every city in the Bay Area is willing to do more, that Jungle won’t be the last.

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