No more shredded tents: San Jose unveils new homeless sweeps policy
Vanessa Beretta, a development officer for the City of San Jose's Homeless Response Team, stands watch as workers with the Santa Clara Valley Water District conduct a homeless encampment abatement at Roosevelt Park on Feb. 27. Photo by Kyle Martin.

San Jose officials will now give homeless residents 15 minutes to pack up their belongings, avoid cutting their tents and provide ample notice in multiple languages before sweeping encampments, elected leaders decided this week.

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday approved revised guidelines for homeless sweeps as part of a new agreement with the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which provides equipment and personnel during the abatement process. The renewed contract extends through 2024.

The new policy also calls for improving outreach processes, suspending sweeps during rain or extreme cold, clarifying which items are considered “personal property” and improving the retrieval process. City officials also suggested using data to track the effectiveness of the sweeps.

“No one at City Hall is comfortable with the idea of uprooting unhoused folk from the shelters and communities they’ve had to create along our rivers, creeks, and streets,” Mayor Sam Liccardo wrote in a memo co-signed by Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, and Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Dev Davis and Maya Esparza. “Unfortunately, because of the public safety, public health, and environmental hazards that encampments pose, these cleanup efforts are sometimes necessary.”

On Wednesday, workers with the Water District swept out dozens of residents camping in Roosevelt Park, loading trucks with tarps, trash, bike parts and more, collecting at least one dump-truck’s worth of stuff.

“‘You have five minutes.’ That’s what they told me,” said homeless resident Darlene Gladwell, 58. “It’s just lucky that I was here, because I almost wasn’t here.”

Gladwell said she was away when workers arrived, and got back in time to grab her tent, some clothes, blankets and a few plastic crates. She’s lived in Roosevelt Park for about seven months. She said last week that she and her neighbors were notified that abatement crews would be coming to sweep the area Wednesday.

But with no living family or friends to lean on, she has nowhere else to go — much like the majority of the other dozens of park residents.

“We’re all just going to wait for them to leave and then we’re going to go back down,” Gladwell said through tears. “And then they’re going to give us tickets for trespassing and take us to jail.”

According to city documents, advocates have asked for a 30-minute window for homeless residents to finish collecting their belongings and a guarantee of 60 days in a shelter. City officials couldn’t fulfil those terms.

But councilors suggested offering donated items such as socks, tents or sleeping bags in addition to “trash for cash” to encourage cooperative clean-ups. The memo from Liccardo and his council colleagues also encouraged city officials to gather input from homeless residents on maintaining encampments without polluting waterways, relocating to alternative housing sites and enrolling them in transitional jobs programs.

“Let’s engage them in clean-up strategies that are likely more humane than abatements and might very well satisfy our legal and
regulatory obligations to keep the waterways clean,” the memo said.

Minneapolis “successfully engaged” a 300-tent encampment of mostly-Native American residents, the lawmakers said, and developed a 120-bed center in six weeks for most of the encampment residents. About 70 residents found permanent housing.

Though she’s not homeless, nearby resident Alicia Cruz said she’ll have to buy a new tent for her cousin who lives in the park after sweeping crews took it. She said she frequents the park to check in on her cousin.

“It’s heartbreaking because I see them and they have nowhere to go,” Cruz said. “Now they’re out in the cold.”

Contact Kyle Martin at kylebmartin96@gmail.com or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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