San Jose could resume homeless encampment sweeps

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (BCN) – San Jose may turn its back on its pandemic policy that halted homeless encampment sweeps.

On Tuesday, the City Council will vote on two matters: immediately resuming pre-pandemic encampment management and abatement procedures and establishing a temporary sanctioned encampment on a publicly owned site for the duration of the pandemic.

If both were to pass, that could mean San Jose would resume encampment sweeps and move all homeless people into a central encampment that offers various resources and is protected by the city.

Homeless advocates took to City Hall on Monday to protest the potential changes.

A group of local organizations that support the county’s unhoused population and call themselves the Stop Death Coalition are opposed to the proposed change for two main reasons.

The first is that sweeps are inhumane and inefficient. The second is that the city should create multiple sanctioned encampments instead of one large one.

“You can’t do sweeps unless you have a place for people to go and this city has no place for people to go,” said Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara.

Councilmember’s Raul Peralez’s proposal to move the thousands of unhoused folks in San Jose to one central location, like the county fairgrounds, is not an effective solution either, Perry and the rest of the Stop Death Coalition said.

This is because many unhoused people live in areas near their childhood homes and create a community there.

“A lot of people say this is where I’m from, this is where I grew up, that’s my church right there and that’s where my kids went to school,” said Shaunn Cartwright, founder of the Unhoused Response Group. “They may not be housed but this is their home.”

Geneva Strickland, a San Jose native who was homeless for several years until 2019, said she stayed by Berryessa Creek because it felt safer and more comforting there.

“I was there 14 years in my apartment before I became homeless, so all the restaurants and shops, they remembered me,” Strickland said. “We don’t want to go somewhere we don’t know. We want to be around the same people and same things.”

That’s why Strickland said sweeps were so painful. She would lose most of her possessions in the process of leaving the encampment site, only to return a few weeks or months later to the same area.

When she took shelter near the Flea Market on Berryessa, she was swept three times before she went to the Little Orchard Street shelter. Strickland said she felt more unsafe at the shelter because men would sexually harass and threatened to abuse her, which is why she moved back in the same encampment again.

But Peralez said that sanctioned encampments could prevent that painful process of sweeps and provide health care, case management services and support to help people transition into permanent housing.

“Sanctioned encampments will provide the basic living conditions that most of us take for granted on a daily basis, such as safe and stable shelter that has been absolutely essential during these trying times,” Peralez said in a memo. “It will help end the unhoused from being unjustly criminalized and the disruptive and traumatic nature of the abatement process.”

However, not all councilmembers are on board with sanctioned encampments.

In a memo, Councilmembers David Cohen and Pam Foley said they would rather see the city invest in expanding affordable housing options instead of sanctioned encampments. They also said sweeps should be a last resort when encampments are in the public right of way or pose a threat to other residents.

If the city votes to resume its pre-pandemic policy on sweeps, this would be a move from San Jose’s policy to keep unhoused folks in their encampments unless they are offered individual housing, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

But the city has ignored the guideline multiple times. Last week the city removed upwards of 100 people from their tents and makeshift homes along the Coyote Creek Trail — potentially the largest sweep since The Jungle sweeps in 2014.

The city has done many other abatements in the last few months as well.

The City Council will begin discussions on this matter no earlier than 4 p.m. Tuesday and the meeting can be accessed HERE.

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