San Jose mayor targets homeless living near schools
A string of RVs and vehicles line Educational Park Drive outside KIPP San Jose Collegiate Aug. 3, 2023. Photo by Ben Irwin.

    San Jose may soon enforce banning homeless dwelling near schools if a proposed ordinance is passed.

    The issue was in plain sight with roughly a dozen RVs and vehicles lined on Educational Park Drive in East San Jose where Mayor Matt Mahan, Councilmember Peter Ortiz and two students spoke today about their plans to ban homeless encampments and vehicle dwellings within 150 feet of most San Jose preschools, day cares and K-12 schools.

    Leaders gathered at KIPP San Jose Collegiate, a public charter high school open to all students. Some say they have been followed and threatened by homeless individuals in the area. KIPP Principal Kim Vo said addressing homelessness on campus has cost the school tens of thousands of dollars, and they’ve had to hire their own private security.

    “Many of these students standing behind me this morning … spoke out because homeless neighbors were sleeping on school grounds and in school bathrooms. They spoke out because they were finding needles on their lunch tables,” Mahan said. “Our students should not have to face the ramifications of our failure on homelessness.”

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan speaks outside KIPP San Jose Collegiate on a proposed school buffer from homeless camps and vehicle dwelling. Photo by Ben Irwin.

    The city already has a “buffer” zone prohibiting tents, built structures or other miscellaneous belongings within 150 feet of San Jose schools that went into effect in 2021, but the rule is more of an “informal guidance” that hasn’t routinely been enforced, Mahan said.

    The new proposal by Mahan — also backed by councilmembers Bien Doan and David Cohen — would bolster the informal buffer written during former Mayor Sam Liccardo’s term and make it official. It would also include the new vehicle and encampment bans near schools into city code.

    For months Mahan has been forthcoming about his plans to enact no encampment zones. But in April, he said he wouldn’t implement the ban until San Jose had concrete solutions, like his plans for alternative housing solutions, of which the city is still short.

    Mahan is now flipping his stance, taking a hardline approach and saying he will “absolutely not” wait until his temporary housing goal is reached to enforce the proposed ordinance if it’s passed by the San Jose City Council. The proposed ordinance will come before the Rules and Open Government Committee Aug. 9 before it can be heard by the full council.

    “There are a lot of places to park and camp that don’t have to be right next to a school,” Mahan said. “We’ve got to give our students that peace of mind of having even just a modest buffer around their learning environment.”

    Not everyone believes in Mahan’s new proposal.

    Raj Jayadev, founder of the community organizing group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said the Mayor’s latest proposal continues to criminalize and dehumanize the homeless people, a population disproportionately of color, some who are children and students themselves.

    “That sends a message to the rest of the city when you have elected officials starting from this depiction that the homeless are inherently dangerous and someone the city needs to protect its children from,” Jayadev said. “It’s not just divisive, it’s cruel.”

    Jayadev said he’d like to see the Mayor and councilmembers put their energy into creating sustainable housing solutions and addressing income inequality rather than political grandstanding.

    “(Mahan should) try not to pretend he’s a hero for punishing people because they don’t have money,” Jayadev said. “(San Jose) is one of the most expensive places to live.”

    Ortiz, who represents District 5 in East San Jose where the school is located, considers himself more progressive on issues like homelessness and housing. But even after experiencing homelessness himself, Ortiz said the proposed ban near schools comes down to students feeling safe as they go to-and-from school.

    “This isn’t a progressive issue or a conservative issue. This is an area where we should all agree,” Ortiz said. “I have youth telling me about their concerns… it’s my job to respond to their legislation.”

    Several KIPP students who helped draft the proposed ban joined Mahan and Ortiz for the announcement, including senior Alfredo Hernandez, founder and president of a young democrats club at KIPP.

    “When I heard Mayor Mahan would attend one of our club meetings, I was amazed. It made me realize that change was slowly appearing,” Hernandez said. “That’s what makes me believe our community is changing for the better, causing me to believe in government.”

    Contact Ben Irwin at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on Twitter.

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