San Jose offers homeless services before final sweep
Dozens of unhoused residents sought food and services during a resource fair at Columbus Park on Aug. 18. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

San Jose is connecting homeless residents with resources days before it sweeps them from a sprawling encampment near Columbus Park.

Dozens of unhoused residents strolled down Spring Street Thursday afternoon for food and services, ranging from legal help, youth and veteran services and health care. The city partnered with Santa Clara County and groups such as the Humane Society Silicon Valley and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley to bring a wide range of resources to nearly 90 people living at the camp, down from a few hundred several months ago. The event featured roughly 20 booths and is part of the city’s plan to get unhoused residents ready before the city clears out the camp on Sept. 1.

“For many people, it’s hard to start making decisions about where to go,” San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand told San José Spotlight. “It’s important that we bring services to make connections and work with people, so we can have as much of a successful transition as possible.”

San Jose is under a fast-approaching deadline to clear its largest encampment site near Columbus Park, which sits under the flight path of Mineta San Jose International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration is demanding the city remove homeless residents living there, citing safety reasons. The FAA is threatening to withhold millions of dollars if the camp isn’t cleared.

San Jose plans to start sweeping the location in two weeks. It began towing inoperable vehicles in March.

Paul Peterson, who has lived at the camp in a trailer for the last two years, brought his two-year-old dog to the fair for microchipping. He talked to Santa Clara County public defenders to help with his criminal record and Goodwill of Silicon Valley about a job.

“This fair has been pretty positive,” he told San José Spotlight. “But the resources throughout this could be better. We have so many with mental health issues out here. We could use that.”

He doesn’t have a plan for the September sweep yet. His vehicle was impounded a few weeks ago, so he can’t drive the trailer away.

“I also don’t know where to go, but I don’t want to lose it,” he said, referring to his trailer.

Paul Peterson has lived at Columbus Park in a trailer for the last two years. He doesn’t have a plan for where he’ll go when the city sweeps the park in September. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

HomeFirst, a homeless services and housing provider, has been the lead on connecting homeless people at the site to housing and resources. So far, the nonprofit has helped 90 people into temporary housing and 45 others into permanent housing, city officials said. Vanessa Beretta, senior officer with the city’s homeless response team, said the work is far from over.

“We’re trying to reduce any barriers that would prevent (people) from getting into housing,” she told San José Spotlight, adding some of the biggest challenges include determining vehicle ownership and getting people proper ID or social security cards. “We’re also continuing to engage so people would trust us and trust the process.”

Morales-Ferrand said the city will use the Plaza Hotel and tiny home sites as short-term solutions until more housing comes online. It’s not clear where people living in RVs could go, as the safe parking program at a VTA parking lot isn’t ready until November.

Residents at the site said they are working with housing providers such as HomeFirst and Abode Services to find housing before the September deadline.

Juaackoyn “Juju” Fincher is finally moving off the streets this week, after living near Columbus Park for a decade. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Juaackoyn “Juju” Fincher is finally moving off the streets this week, after living near Columbus Park for a decade. She will stay in a motel as New Directions Behavioral Health works to find her a more stable living situation. The organization partners with groups such as Downtown Streets Team to find housing for those who are chronically homeless.

“I’m anxious because it still feels too good to be true,” Fincher told San José Spotlight. “Once I’m there, then I can really believe it.”

Fincher said she has waited years for help. She worries others still at the camp won’t be so lucky.

“I have so much anxiety for people who are still here,” she said. “I don’t think the city is doing enough, and their plans always fall through somehow.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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