San Jose moves to close ‘The Jungle’

A project team Monday began posting 72-hour notices about the closure of the “Jungle,” a homeless encampment where about 200 people reside at Coyote Creek south of downtown San Jose that is considered unsafe and unsanitary by officials, a city spokesman said.

The team, made up of employees of San Jose city and Santa Clara County departments and non-profit service providers, plan to start cleaning the homeless camp of structures, debris and waste on Thursday, a process that will take about two weeks, according to city spokesman David Vossbrink.

The closing and clearing of the camp, next to the creek off of Story Road between Interstate Highway 280 and Kelley Park, has been in the works for 18 months and about 130 people have already moved out over the past six to eight months, Vossbrink said.

The city recently received a regulatory notice from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to put a stop to human and other unsanitary waste from the Jungle that is polluting the creek, which carries water that ends up in the San Francisco Bay, Vossbrink said:

“We are responsible as a city for preventing pollutants flowing into the bay.”

The city also has statements from police and anecdotal accounts about crimes, including violence, drug dealing and prostitution, going on at the camp, where police cuffed 15 people who had arrest warrants during a sweep there in October, Vossbrink said:

“Living in a creek bottom is not safe and not sanitary, and we’re getting reports of criminal activity.”

The population of the creek is estimated at 200, although it changes daily as people leave and are replaced by new residents, he said.

Ray Bramson, the city’s homelessness response manager, was at the Jungle Monday morning talking to residents and letting them know that authorities will begin to clear the camp on Thursday if weather permits.

About 50 camp residents agreed to move today and the city intends to transition all of the camp’s dwellers into decent housing, Bramson said:

“In the next couple of days, we’re going to find a safe place for them to go to.”

A survey of area homeless people conducted for the city last year found that 96 percent would accept an assignment to permanent housing, Bramson said.

The difficult part is obtaining the right kinds of housing to meet the diverse needs of the people, some of whom have chronic physical and mental health problems, Bramson said.

Others have different barriers to finding housing, such as poor credit that does not allow them to qualify for apartment leases, or criminal records yet to be expunged that inhibit their ability to find jobs that pay the rent, he said.

Another obstacle is that some homeless “are not trusting” of the people attempting to get them to leave the camp and assist them in finding a new place to live, he said:

“There is a lot of stuff in between getting someone off the streets and getting them into their apartment. … Rebuilding that trust in the system takes time.”

Vossbrink said helping the homeless is a regional concern beyond the city, as about 5,000 people are without homes at a given time in Santa Clara County, some living in their cars. One of the core reasons for the homeless problem is the very high cost of rental housing in Silicon Valley, he said.

For those who will be evicted from the Jungle, the city has housing vouchers for them to stay at local hotels and motels, while others can go to cold weather shelters the county opened last Friday that have about 275 beds throughout the county, Vossbrink said:

“The long-term challenge is how to we deal with thousands of homeless people.”

The city, which has appropriated $2 million to permanently house homeless individuals from San Jose, is also going to offer transportation for the homeless to their new homes, according to a report issued today by city housing director Leslye Corsiglia.

At the Jungle camp on Thursday, the city’s plan is to send employees of the housing department to offer housing services, San Jose police to help with security, traffic control and clearance work, city environmental services workers to manage biological waste removal, parks, recreation and neighborhood services to provide rangers at the site and public works employees to provide services for animals there, Corsiglia said.

After the camp is cleared, a group called Watershed Protection Team, a partnership between the city and the Santa Clara Valley Water District, will regularly patrol the cleared camp and elsewhere on Coyote Creek, the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek to clean up litter and prevent illegal camping, she said.

The city has already started installing boulders to thwart vehicle access to the Jungle area and 1,500 feet of eight-foot-high steel fencing along the western and eastern banks of Coyote Creek to block access to it from Story Road, according to Corsiglia.