San Jose homeless wary of housing at police parking lot
A San Jose Police Department parking lot is set to house homeless residents with a 76-unit project of prefabricated homes. Photo by Jackie Contreras.

    After decades of criminalizing the homeless—often profiling and citing individuals—San Jose now wants to house them.

    The San Jose City Council announced last October that a parking lot at the San Jose Police Department headquarters along Guadalupe Parkway would serve as a site for temporary homeless housing. City officials broke ground on Feb. 9 and hope to house residents by the fall.

    But some advocates question the site’s location, afraid it will heighten existing tensions and distrust between homeless residents and the police.

    “It definitely doesn’t make sense to me to put it next to the police who have been used to terrorize unhoused residents,” Silicon Valley De-Bug organizer Liz Gonzalez told San José Spotlight, adding homeless residents often describe their living conditions as prison-like. Now she fears those conditions will be worsened with increased police presence. “Who would want to live there under, maybe, increased surveillance?”

    Mayor Sam Liccardo speaks at the groundbreaking of a housing project in a San Jose Police Department parking lot on Feb. 9. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    The relationship between homeless residents in the Bay Area’s largest city and police officers has been contentious for decades—homeless people are often seen as an enemy which leads to distrust, Gonzalez said. For example, San Jose police cited homeless residents of Watson Park last March for unlawful lodging. Many homeless individuals were ordered to appear in court and move out of the encampment.

    Homeless residents John Betts and Geneva Strickland told San José Spotlight the location choice for the new temporary housing is “weird.”

    “It’s kind of close to the police,” Betts said. “I mean it’s just something to think about, being so close to the police department.”

    Strickland, meanwhile, said despite feeling criminalized and targeted by police, having housing is better than living outdoors.

    “If you’re a woman out here by yourself on the streets and you’re offered a place to lock your door, you’d be stupid not to do it no matter where it’s at,” Strickland said, adding police officers in the city “treat us all like criminals, drug addicts.”

    The San Jose Police Department declined to comment.

    Betts lived in his car for about 10 years, and is currently staying near the Campbell border. He said he often experienced police officers knocking on his window in the middle of the night without identifying themselves.

    “A lot of the times you feel better just not answering at all,” Betts said.

    Advocates say police often ticket homeless residents for parking violations and run warrant checks throughout encampments, which teaches them to fear officers.

    With the new housing site sitting on police headquarters, advocates and homeless residents also worry about a spike in homeless arrests.

    A 2019 San Jose homeless survey found that out of 908 unhoused individuals, 27% reported spending a night in jail within the last 12 months.

    “A lot of people have warrants and they’re not going to want to go anywhere near there,” Strickland said.

    San Jose leaders say they haven’t gotten any complaints about the homeless housing site and they’re grateful to the San Jose Police Department for providing its parking lot.

    Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand said the SJPD parking lot, located close to public transportation, serves as an ideal spot for interim housing and has access to sewer, electric and water systems.

    “The proximity of the Guadalupe Parkway community to the police station has never been raised as a concern,” Morrales-Ferrand told San José Spotlight.

    Contact Jackie Contreras at [email protected] or follow @C96Jackie on Twitter.

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