"The Jungle" along San Jose's Coyote Creek has become an infamous American encampment over the past few years, with the estimated 200-300 people spread out in separate "neighborhoods" over 68 acres of residual space. But on this past Thursday, bulldozers and city workers entered the site in yet another attempt to put an end to this congregation of those with no place else to go.
|Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group (Source: San Jose Mercury News)|
It was a familiar scene since the camp had just been evicted from the same site in late April of the previous year, only to return shortly thereafter. That's right, the city is spending around $500,000 to clear out the camp for the second time in less than two years. The justification for another eviction was based on environmental concerns, along with another familiar argument from city officials—the conditions are intolerable.
"This site is no longer open for any individuals," Bramson [the city's homeless response manager] said. "The fact that anyone has to live in conditions like this is horrible. This shouldn't be a viable alternative for anyone. We need to make sure that people never have to live in a place like this." (Mercury News)
And yet again, city officials choose to only see health and safety hazards, and blatantly ignore the human tendency of banding together to live in community when left with no place else to go.
The Jungle works for the people who live there, providing a sense of community, a support network, even a meager livelihood. The Jungle has its own crude system of governance, with order often maintained vigilante-style, residents say. "Any time people break the rules, they're asked to leave," said a longtime inhabitant, known as Giggles. "As much as we don't like rules, you have to have them." Most of the people who live there didn't choose to be homeless, but now that they are, the Jungle meets their most basic needs. (Mercury News)
If you listen to the people being evicted for just one minute, it's obvious that amidst this "sunken subdivision from hell" there were some positive things happening that could be further developed as part of a nuanced response—where legal recognition could provide the ability to improve physical and organizational infrastructure.
Instead, the city's "homeless response manager" once again clung to conventional, short-term responses—defending the move yet again with expensive, temporary housing subsidies that do little to address the actual situation beyond public relations padding. They tell you that people have been placed in housing, but never clarify for how long.
Bramson said the city is doing everything it can to ease the crisis: 144 people had been placed in housing, and another 55 have housing subsidy vouchers and are looking for homes through this pilot program. An additional 70 to 80 temporary shelter beds also had been arranged. Officials hope the cleanup of the Jungle will show that local government can help get the homeless into housing as well as clean up polluted creeks. (Mercury News)
Some have plans to organize a new camp at a different site while others have committed to returning to "The Jungle" once again after the city lets their guard down. On the other hand, the city has committed to using police working overtime to patrol the site to make sure that it is closed for good. But unless they want to see the same headlines and videos next year, they should probably try some more proactive responses that involve listening to the people they are planning for.