Veronica T. Avendaño
Concerns for health, safety and overall neighborhood blight were calls to action for the city of San Jose to take steps to address the city’s homeless encampments. The City released its current Homeless Encampment report last month summarizing previous and future plans that will be implemented. The report, released every two years, found approximately 4770 homeless people, 1230, about 77 percent of those are living along creeks and streams mostly in the Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek zone. The city noted 247 encampments in their report.
“The city definitely identified areas of concern and wanted to make sure that they were providing support, not just to clean up encampments, but to make sure that they are permanently removed,” said Homelessness Response Manager, Ray Bramson. The City has worked since the 1990s to clean up the encampments. In June 2013, City Council approved funding for a rapid rehousing program. Funds are for a two year period,with two million allocated each year.
According to the report, the City’s interest in cleaning up the encampments stems mostly from health and safety. The build up of trash, debris, and other pollutants in the waterways could potentially, “degrade water quality and the health of the city’s watershed,” said the report.
The current report set to pin-point criteria for selecting encampments and establish a new protocol for cleanup.
“There were several court cases, most notably in Los Angeles, relating to the destruction of people’s property and a question about appropriate search and seizures,” said Bramson. “Our city attorney thoroughly reviewed the cases that went to court and our internal procedures and we came up with a new strategy when we go into encampments.”
The city now posts a 72 hour clean up notice to alert encampment residents of the cleanup. Before the cleanup, Outreach workers are sent to the encampments sites to discuss housing options and services for residents. “Some folks we have on the streets are chronically homeless so they have a mental or physical health condition, for those people we try to find permanent sort of housing,” said Bramson. Bramson added that the city operates under a “housing first” strategy.
“When we work with individuals that have an employment history that don’t have significant chronic conditions, we’re definitely open to placing them into jobs and getting them into employment programs,” said Bramson. During the cleanup, the city uses a property crew to assess all property, using the city property guidelines before removing and disposing any trash and debris. The city then stores the property for 90 days to allow for residents to claim and pick up their belongings.
Bramson noted that encampment population varies, but typically most encampment residents reflected an older homeless population. Most encampment residents have also been homeless for longer periods of time.
Since the creation of the City’s Homeless Response Program, the report noted 49 encampment cleanups with 77 homeless residents now in permanent housing for the fiscal year. Bramson said the city’s current program has cleaned up 650 tons of trash and debris, a significant increase compared to last year’s 150 tons.
Visit the City website http://www.sanjoseca.gov/index.aspx?NID=1314 for a direct link to all homeless resources such as housing, health and food services as well as reports or call 1.877.428.8844 toll free.