San Jose nonprofit serving homeless says city won’t clear RVs, trash
Operations manager of nonprofit CityTeam's San Jose branch James Alvarado said RV dwellers would leave belongings on the sidewalk where community members typically come for services. Photo courtesy of James Alvarado.

Just outside a San Jose nonprofit’s headquarters on Charles St., heaps of trash are overflowing and hazardous materials and human waste are piling up.

Officials at CityTeam, a nonprofit that provides services and transitional housing to homeless residents, say they’ve appealed to the city to clean up the trash and move people who live in RVs lining the street nearby. But, they say, the city has been silent.

James Alvarado, who manages the nonprofit’s operations in San Jose, said he’s seen the problem worsen amid the pandemic.

As CityTeam’s meal program grows and the nonprofit serves more to-go meals, the clusters of trash and hazardous waste are thwarting access to sidewalks where residents line up for services – a problem exacerbated by the need for social distancing.

“We have to go out there and ask (RV dwellers), ‘Hey, can you please move the stuff off the sidewalk?’ – and that’s if we can find them,” Alvarado told San José Spotlight. “Other than that, we’re kind of dancing around.”

Propane tanks and hydrogen tanks were left out in the open, trash blocked the street and some RV dwellers refused to leave, Alvarado said – even when some were offered housing services from CityTeam.

“Over the course of a day or two they’ll clean it up and that’ll last 12 to 24 hours, then it starts to clutter again,” he said.

A nitrogen tank left among other waste produced by people without houses residing on Charles St. Photo courtesy of James Alvarado.

Alvarado said he met with city housing department officials to address the issue, but the RVs and trash remain.

Jeff Scott, a spokesman for the city’s housing department, said no one from CityTeam recently contacted the city, but said housing department officials met with Alvarado about the matter a few months ago.

“As a result of that meeting, the Housing Department has sent street outreach teams to speak with RV residents in the area,” Scott said. “We are trying to find housing opportunities for them. We are aware of the situation as well as hundreds of other encampments and RV dwellings throughout the city.”

Transportation spokesman Colin Heyne said he also did not receive any complaints – though Alvarado said he had contacted parking compliance officers.

“As you know, if our Parking Compliance Officers encounter vehicles that we suspect are being lived in, we contact the Housing Department,” Heyne said.

Alvarado said housing department officials told him RVs couldn’t be removed because COVID-19 guidelines discourage such abatements – though the city has ignored CDC guidelines in clearing other encampments, citing right-of-way clearings. As San José Spotlight reported, the city has led or participated in 97 homeless sweeps since Oct. 2020, often creating a revolving door for homeless residents who end up back there weeks later.

The city’s trash cleanup initiative BeautifySJ has been providing regular trash service to the area near CityTeam, Scott said, but the venue remains challenging because it doesn’t stay clean and resources are limited.

“If this happened in front of City Hall, it would be cleaned up immediately,” Alvarado said.

One RV dweller living across from the CityTeam warehouse said trash cleanup crews come once a week to collect the resident’s waste.

Choosing to only be identified by his first name, Mario said he keeps piles of what appear to be metal material along the sidewalk because he has nowhere else to put it.

“I’m going to recycle all of this later, get some money out of it,” he said.

When asked about moving from the spot, Mario said he was saving up money to relocate.

Alvarado said he hopes to serve meals and hygiene kits to those in need – but will have to think of how he’ll clear the sidewalk so people have enough space to socially distance while waiting in line to be served.

“We need to come together as a city to think, what can we do for these (RV dwellers)?” he said. “CityTeam is here to serve the community, but at the same time we need to provide a safe area to where we can have the community come out.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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