An unhoused man and his dog at an encampment off Highway 237 in Silicon Valley.
Ricky Robles, 60, has been living with his dog Shorty at the Highway 237 encampment for two years. Photo by Brandon Pho.

About 40 homeless people are tucked away on a small parcel of land adjacent to busy Highway 237.

The encampment sits around the same location where Microsoft plans to construct two data centers in San Jose near the Milpitas border. The unhoused residents said a Caltrans worker tipped them off to a looming sweep. Officials from Caltrans, Santa Clara County and San Jose deny any such plan. Yet someone has put the encampment on notice, and its residents are on edge.

“If we have to move in 60 days, 90 days — fine, that’s what we’ll work from. But we want to be prepared,” Ricky Robles, a 60-year-old unhoused resident who has lived at the encampment for two years, told San José Spotlight. “We have vehicles and would need to get our cars out of here. We’ll have to get our cars towed if they don’t start. Or we risk getting ticketed or getting our stuff taken away. And then, we need to figure out where to go.”

Microsoft bought the 65-acre site in 2017 for $73 million to construct the data centers. San Jose officials have yet to issue permits for the project, which is still under review by the San Jose planning division and other departments.

Microsoft declined to comment on the encampment.

Advocates and local officials differ on when the encampment appeared, but pin its origin sometime between 2021 and 2022. They agree the camp ballooned after Milpitas city officials, in a high profile anti-homeless campaign, pushed unhoused residents out of town toward Highway 237.

Roughly 40 people are living out of their cars in an encampment by Highway 237. Microsoft plans to build two data centers on this location. Photo by Brandon Pho.

“It got worse when Milpitas cracked down,” Councilmember David Cohen, whose District 4 encompasses the Highway 237 camp, told San José Spotlight. “We can’t control what other cities do within their borders, but I hope we will all work together to be thoughtful and solve the problem rather than take quick action that makes it harder on neighbors.”

Robles said he’s lived at the encampment for two years, due to legal battles with his brother. He tried living in various motels and county shelter programs, but he had bad experiences.

Robles said he spoke with a man who appeared to work for Caltrans a few weeks ago.

“The man said, ‘Hey, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be doing this, but you guys should know they’re going to be moving you guys out of here,’” Robles told San José Spotlight.

Caltrans spokesperson Victor Gauthier said the agency has no authority over the property and no plans for a sweep. He referred all questions to San Jose officials. Councilmember Cohen said no sweep is planned.

Cohen said the encampment issue highlights his push for safe parking programs in the city. One safe parking site has opened in South San Jose, where homeless people can sleep in their RVs and access services. But the program has numerous restrictions which caused the location at the Santa Teresa VTA light rail station to be mostly empty when it opened. It is nearly full as of Feb. 26.

A second site at 100 Berryessa Road is scheduled to open this summer. The project has experienced numerous delays.

Yolie Garcia, an organizer for Milpitas advocacy group Hope for the Unhoused, said moving residents to the safe parking site will take time.

“The vehicles would need to be operable and have current insurance and registration,” Garcia told San José Spotlight. “I’m hoping to have all that info in the next two weeks for each car at the encampment.”

She said residents at the encampment are in survival mode every day.

“Having a secure place to live even for a short time is everything to them, but they know it can end in a minute and that causes stress and PTSD,” Garcia said.

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected]m or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story indicated the Santa Teresa safe parking site was still mostly vacant.

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