San Jose homeless trailer park residents forced out after three weeks
Former resident of the Happy Hollow trailer camp Darriel Trotter with his friend Karen Bonham in front of the entrance to the park. Trotter and the other residents were evicted on Monday despite the camp only being at one-third capacity.

Homeless residents living inside trailers at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo set up for those with COVID-19 or at risk of contracting the deadly virus were evicted after three weeks when the trailer park was suddenly shut down on Monday.

The residents were moved into hotels instead.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever seen,” said Karen Bonham, a friend of a former resident who came to help him move out. She said she witnessed people with their belongings “running up and down the hill” near the entrance on Story Road.

The park had 90 trailers provided by the state and overseen by Abode Services, a homeless services provider. Thirty trailers were occupied Monday, said Amanda Cole, a member of homeless advocacy group Survivors of the Streets. The eviction notice residents received cited the unexpectedly high cost of maintenance and general upkeep as the reason for closing the location.

“They were talking about the exit plan before they even housed one person,” Cole said, referring to both the Happy Hollow Board of Directors and the San Jose City Council.

The trailers were meant for homeless people over the age of 50 who have underlying medical conditions, Cole said. A FAQ document provided by the city said residents had to meet one of three criteria: COVID-19 positive or presumably exposed to the virus or at high risk of the illness.

A copy of the eviction notice sent to homeless residents of a trailer park at Happy Hollow. Photo by Stella Lorence.

According to the eviction notice, the city and Abode Services decided that it was in everyone’s best interest to close the site after having trouble with its upkeep. The trailers, the notice said, were provided by the state and it was a new form of shelter never tried.

“After giving that experiment a month, we’ve decided it’s in everyone’s best interest to move in a different direction,” the notice said. “As many of you know there have been daily maintenance needs with the trailers and the ongoing upkeep is proving too difficult and expensive to sustain.”

Cole said applying for a trailer was total confusion. She and six advocates posed as homeless people in calls to the Santa Clara County shelter referral service. She said they found the service unresponsive and unclear about who could stay at the site.

“Doing the number could be like six phone calls over three days,” said Shaunn Cartwright, who described herself as a friend of the Survivors of the Streets group.

“There seemed to be people who were walking by and getting shelter,” she said. “We were making jokes about having … people needing shelter panhandling in shifts in front of Happy Hollow because that seemed like the easiest way to get shelter there.”

Cartwright and Cole met with representatives from Mayor Sam Liccardo’s office on Monday night to discuss the future of the trailer site and ways to make the referral service less confusing. When they described the problems they had calling for help, one representative said that he would look into the issue.

Cartwright and Cole said neither representative from the mayor’s office mentioned that residents had been evicted earlier that morning. After the meeting, Cartwright received an email from a city official stating the park was being dissolved.

“It took a long time to talk people into housing, and now you’ve broken their trust,” Cartwright said. “Why don’t unhoused lives matter?”

The mayor’s office did not comment on the situation.

City officials told San José Spotlight that every homeless person from the trailer park had been safely relocated.

“Our priority during the pandemic regarding homeless residents is to keep them safe,” said Jeff Scott, a spokesman for the San Jose Housing Department. “Everyone who had been staying in the trailer site on Story (Road) has been transitioned to other housing.”

But Cartwright said residents thought they’d get to stay until January, and some of them ended up on the streets.

“This is a fragile population, it takes a lot to talk them inside,” she said late Tuesday. “You can’t toy with them and ‘experiment’ with them.”

Residency in the trailers was supposed to happen in three phases, filling 30 trailers per phase, according to the city. The demobilization process was expected to take 30 to 60 days, after which the trailers would be relocated to another site and the residents would be moved into shelters.

According to the FAQs, the city anticipated the site would remain open through the more serious stages of the pandemic and until Happy Hollow Park and Zoo could reopen to visitors. The park reopened this week for summer camp but has not announced a date for reopening to the general public.

Advocates for unhoused residents are waiting on numbers from the coroner’s office to complete their banner representing all of the people who have died while waiting for shelter during the pandemic. They displayed it in front of Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, where a temporary trailer park was demobilized on Monday. Photo by Stella Lorence.

There are almost 2,500 chronically homeless residents in Santa Clara County, the majority of whom are people of color, according to county homeless census and survey data from 2019. COVID-19 disproportionately affects blacks and, despite city and county programs, many homeless people lack regular access to hygiene facilities, making them more at risk during the pandemic.

Darriel Trotter, a former resident of one of the trailers who was moved to a nearby Holiday Inn, headed back to his old home Tuesday to retrieve a Bluetooth speaker he had left in his trailer. Trotter was denied entry at the gate by a security guard, who informed him that all the trailers had already been cleaned out and there was no management staff on location left to help.

“You saw yesterday,” the security guard said to Trotter. “Everybody left.”

Contact Stella Lorence at stella.g.lorence@gmail.com or follow on Twitter @slorence3.

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