Homeless women say Apple treated them like ‘critters’
Security personnel at the North San Jose homeless encampment site along Component Dr. ensure no one enters the gated area without permission. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    The encampment Apple swept near its property in North San Jose was home to several women — and one of them says the tech giant treated her like a “filthy little critter.”

    The homeless camp near Component Drive housed up to 100 people inside tents and cars for at least two years. Apple, which plans to build a campus on the vacant land it owns, began clearing the encampment last week.

    April Ramirez, a resident who lived in her RV at the encampment for a year, said Apple’s security personnel threatened to tow her vehicle.

    The homeless residents were given until Thursday to clear out of the area.

    “They kind of treated us like we were filthy little critters or something like that — like we weren’t even people,” Ramirez told San José Spotlight, adding that she managed to move her RV further down the street to a parking lot. “They overdid it with all the security and everything that they had. There was like over 30 security guards.”

    The clearance has already had life-altering impacts for Ramirez. She said after security guards bullied her into moving her RV a couple blocks away from the site, it was stolen on Monday.

    “I am very devastated right now,” Ramirez said, her voice choking. “I feel really disappointed with Apple in how they pressured me to get my vehicle out of the way and now it’s gone.”

    Longtime homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright said several women, including Ramirez, left the site after security personnel took photos and yelled at them. She blamed Apple squarely for the loss of Ramirez’s RV.

    “It never would have gotten stolen if she hadn’t fled Component,” Cartwright said. “So we basically all feel that Apple is liable for the replacement of her RV.”

    Traumatized over and over again’

    Cartwright claims all of the displaced women have experience with domestic violence, and forcing them away from a stable encampment is dangerous.

    “It’s really hard seeing already traumatized women, traumatized over and over and over again by a billion-dollar company,” Cartwright said.

    Apple officials deny towing vehicles and said vehicles moving to a safe parking site designated by the city can stay until this Tuesday. According to Apple officials, the company offered housing to every individual living on the site and everyone who expressed an interest has received services.

    Piles of trash lay beside a dumpster behind the fenced-off area of a homeless encampment in North San Jose Monday. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    Cartwright says a company named Security Industry Specialists is pushing people to leave the site. San José Spotlight could not reach company officials Monday.

    HomeFirst, a nonprofit receiving financial support from Apple to clear the site and re-home residents, had arranged for a volunteer mechanic to help people fix their vehicles over the weekend, according to advocates. But the mechanic disappeared.

    HomeFirst did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Housing alternatives

    People have lived at the Component Drive site for years, but advocates say the encampment grew significantly in the past year due to COVID. The city flagged concerns about poor sanitary conditions and fire risks. In early August, Apple announced a partnership with HomeFirst to relocate dozens of people who live at the encampment, which is part of the tech company’s $2.5 billion campaign to address the California housing crisis.

    “In San Jose, we have been closely coordinating with local partners for several months to identify housing alternatives and support for families who will be transitioning away from the Component Drive site,” Apple said in a prior media statement.

    HomeFirst is offering residents one year of case management and nine months of temporary shelter services. It’s unclear how many people have opted for stays at temporary shelters, but advocates say homeless people are wary of shelters because they can’t take their bigger items and pet with them.

    Ramirez told San José Spotlight that she’s probably going to be booked at a hotel with someone else and she’s nervous about this arrangement. Cartwright claimed women are being roomed with men — a traumatizing experience for homeless women who are often targets of sexual abuse. Apple officials said residents are not being placed in motel rooms with people they don’t know.

    “I can’t complain because it’s not like I’m going to be on the street and I’m grateful for that, but I thought I’d have a little bit more privacy,” Ramirez said. “How do I heal from this traumatizing event where you can see them demolishing all your stuff… it’s just not been a pleasant experience of any kind.”

    Deborah Kempkoble, who had lived inside a trailer at the encampment for two years, told San José Spotlight she took an offer from Apple for housing at a nearby hotel, but she’s not pleased with the accommodations.

    “This hotel they put us in used to be a hooker motel,” she said.

    Unhoused resident of the North San Jose encampment site Deborah Kempkoble said she took an offer from Apple for temporary housing in a nearby hotel. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    San Jose is opening a temporary safe parking site at 71 Vista Montana specifically for people who were displaced from the Apple property.

    The site is planned to house up to 20 people and their cars for potentially nine months, but could close sooner if other alternatives are found. The estimated cost for running the site is between $400,000 and $500,000 and would be funded primarily through the American Rescue Plan. It’s unclear how many people have agreed to move to the site.

    Neighborhood opposition

    Meanwhile, some locals aren’t happy about the homeless residents from the Apple site moving into their neighborhoods.

    A resident named Karthik Suresh launched a petition last week that protested the safe parking lot, citing safety concerns and lack of notice for residents.

    “We do not trust the city to keep this sanctioned ‘RV parking lot’ safe for the neighborhood,” states the petition, which has nearly 500 signatures. “We completely oppose having this parking site, even temporarily.”

    Councilmember David Cohen, whose district includes the Apple site, told San José Spotlight he’s watching the homeless sweep carefully to ensure no one gets hurt.

    “Apple has provided a template for how we must behave as we try to clear encampments across the city. Each homeless individual needs to be provided the opportunity to be moved into stable housing. And Apple has offered resources to do that,” Cohen said. “But it is important to keep in mind that the people who have lived on these sites for a long time have needs that are complicated and flexibility is required during the final days of the process.”

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter. Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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