A fake police notice distributed at a homeless encampment in South San Jose has amped up tensions between unhoused individuals and nearby homeowners.
Notices appeared late Saturday night and indicated the San Jose Police Department would conduct a clean-up in the area the following morning. The letters warned residents to take their things and leave.
“You are trespassing and will be subject to criminal prosecution if you remain,” said one notice reviewed by San José Spotlight.
An SJPD spokesperson confirmed the department did not issue the notices, and the threatened sweep never happened.
It’s unclear who distributed the notices at the encampment, located near the intersection of Monterey Highway and Branham Lane. But the incident is just the latest flashpoint in an increasingly tense conflict between the unhoused residents of the camp and residents of a nearby homeowners association.
“Everybody wants it gone,” said Jim Ramos, a board member of the Deer Run II HOA. “We are at a breaking point.”
With a swelling population of unhoused residents, San Jose is struggling to find a consistent strategy for dealing with encampments. The city rejected sanctioning encampments and has participated in at least 97 abatements—also known as sweeps—of camps since October 2020, but homeless individuals just move elsewhere. San Jose is also shuttering its temporary COVID-19 shelters, which advocates say drives more people onto the streets.
Ramos, who’s lived in the neighborhood since 2001, told San José Spotlight the HOA did not sanction or distribute the fliers. But he noted that the arrival of the encampment roughly five years ago has made life horrible for homeowners. He said people trespass in the residential complex to steal, defecate in nearby bushes, scream and fight at all hours. Residents are fed up, he said.
“We’ve had homeowners threaten to take action on their own,” he said. “This one guy I know has guns. He sent an email (saying), ‘I’m going to take matters into my own hands.’”
For the dozen or so people living in tents, the fact that nearby homeowners want them gone comes as no surprise. Several who spoke with San José Spotlight thought the notice originated from a neighboring homeowner.
Although residents of the encampment aren’t overly concerned about the notice, they are anxious about the growing hostility from their housed neighbors.
Frances Powell told San José Spotlight it’s hard to find privacy in the encampment because homeowners record them on a regular basis. She said it’s not fair that someone posted fake notices in the encampment.
“For somebody like me, it’s stressful,” she said. “And it’s hard because I would have to move my tent—that’s my whole life right there.”
Alex, a disabled resident who has lived in the encampment for the past three years, said he joined the camp after SJPD impounded the RV he lived in. He declined to provide a last name due to privacy concerns.
“Me and my girlfriend are struggling,” Alex said. “We can’t go anywhere without being harassed. So this is our last camping spot. Everyone gets along here, people show respect.”
Gail Osmer, a homeless advocate familiar with the camp, said if the residents keep the site clean, she doesn’t see why they can’t be left alone.
“Unfortunately, there’s no place for them to go,” Osmer said.
Councilmember Matt Mahan told San José Spotlight he’s visited the encampment numerous times, and he finds it challenging to get solutions to the myriad of problems created by its existence.
For example, city workers conduct weekly clean-ups of the camp. Mahan said he wanted to deliver a dumpster to the site to help the residents manage their trash, but learned the city wouldn’t be able to service it.
Jane Iverson, CEO of the Deer Run II HOA, claims that some of the homeless people defecate in public and steal water from homeowners. She pointed out that the encampment residents lack access to basic services. Mahan said he’s advocated for porta potties and hand washing stations at encampments, but so far none have materialized at the one near Monterey and Branham.
HomeFirst, a provider of housing opportunities for the homeless in Santa Clara County, has tried to connect the encampment residents with shelters, but beds are in high demand, Mahan said. Plus, shelters restrict the number of items that can be brought in, and some people are reluctant to abandon their possessions in exchange for a few nights indoors.
“My frustration… is that the way we are tackling the problem today simply isn’t addressing the scale of the problem,” Mahan said.
In the absence of an immediate fix, even direct communication between the encampment and nearby housed residents is difficult. Iverson said her interactions with the encampment are limited to yelling at trespassers and throwing garbage back over the wall that people in the camp toss into the housing complex. She scoffed when asked about talking to the residents directly.
“Do we call the police for an escort?” she said.