On Saturday morning, I went on my 5th Homeless Encampment “sweep” with the San Jose Police Department’s Metro Unit. The Metro Unit is in charge of monitoring creeks for encampments. These clean-ups have taken me to Districts 3,4,6 and 7, alongside the Coyote, Guadalupe and Los Gatos Creeks. When you climb down into the creeks you forget you’re in San Jose, as all you can see is nature.
We have hundreds of people in San Jose who live in the creek areas in temporary shelters. Some structures remind me of developing world shanty towns while other camps have a complete living room set up, with power operated from car batteries. Some encampments are small and are set up underneath street overpasses, while other encampments are massive with many people.
In speaking with several of the people that have chosen to live in the creeks, I have these observations.
• The overwhelming majority are male with few females.
• They are mostly Caucasian and some Latino.
• The overwhelming majority have a substance abuse issue of alcohol and/or speed (crank/meth). They typically do not want to go to the shelters since the shelters have curfews and do not allow drug use or people to enter who are high.
• When asked where they were from, none of them said San Jose or Santa Clara County. They were all from other states like Washington, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska… I thought to myself, is there any correlation between these people migrating to California due to warmer climate, or is this just coincidence?
• I encountered one schizophrenic gentleman who stopped taking his medication and substituted drugs instead.
In addition to the homeless encampments, the Metro Unit provides response to graffiti, back-up homicide investigation, surveillance, and narcotics enforcement. The Metro Unit manages the clean ups alongside the San Jose Valley Water District, and the labor is provided by 30-40 men that have weekend work issued by the court for things like DUI’s. They are directed down to the campsites to clear out all items. (They must be careful where they step because there are no toilets in the encampments, which means fecal matter abounds.) The weekend court-appointees then carry all the trash, mattresses, shopping carts etc… to the trash compactor on the garbage truck. It is not uncommon to fill as many as five trucks in one day.
Prior to the clean up date, SJPD has already visited the campsites and posted signs telling when they will be coming and giving fair warning to the creek residents to take their belongings somewhere else that day. They could be arrested for trespassing, since much of this area is private property owned by the water district.
The people that vacate the creeks on Saturday will return either the same night or within a few days since they know the drill; SJPD will not be back ‘til the next cycle which may be a few months. Last year, during the City of San Jose’s budget, Mayor Reed increased the funding by $76,000 for four additional creek cleanups. The cost pays for the 8-10 officers assigned for the cleanup day, the dumping fees, and one or two people from the City of San Jose’s Environmental Services Department.
It is a sobering sight to see how some people live, and that a simple hot shower is not in the cards.
Some people believe that those who choose to live outside should be able to live in the creeks indefinitely. However, that could be problematic, with campfires that go out of control, water contamination, stolen goods and general lawlessness like a Mad Max movie. Power struggles occur in the creek encampments which results in fist fights between individuals.
Certainly, this is a societal issue that takes a larger government then San Jose to solve since cities do not have borders.
On another note, this Thursday I will be hosting a meeting to discuss the City of San Jose budget deficit at the Willows Community Center, 2175 Lincoln Ave, at 7pm. You are welcome to attend.