Storm displaces San Jose homeless living along creeks
Geraldo Garcia and Graciela Haio collect their belongings amid flood threats as they scramble to find shelter in early January 2023. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Geraldo Garcia had 10 minutes to pack his belongings, scramble into a car and leave his makeshift shelter near Coyote Creek. The threat of flooding from an unprecedented atmospheric river storm gave him barely enough time to grab his essentials.

    “I’m sad. I’m desperate. I really don’t know where to go,” Garcia said, who’s been living by the creek for six months with his partner, Graciela Haio.

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said the city has declared a state of emergency and an evacuation order, noting the conditions could be threatening for homeless residents living by creeks and rivers. On Wednesday, he and other city officials visited homeless camps to warn about flooding and inform them of available shelter. The city has opened overnight warming centers at Roosevelt Community Center, the West Valley library branch and Seven Trees Community Center. The city will open more on an as-needed basis. VTA is offering free shuttle services to help unhoused residents get to these locations.

    “We don’t anticipate widespread flooding,” Mahan said. “What we’re really worried about right now is just the waterways (where) unhoused residents are (living). Near the creeks and rivers is where there is a serious risk.”


    Homeless advocate Gail Osmer pleads with Mayor Matt Mahan after the state of emergency announcement to provide more space for unhoused residents to bring their belongings with them. Many homeless residents are not willing to leave their items behind. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose Police Field Operations Deputy Chief Brian Shab said they will not forcefully evict anyone, but will offer assistance to get people out.

    “We are using lots of resources that we have available to us whether it be altering vehicles (or) our aircraft,” Shab said. “We (also) have a rescue vehicle that has the capability of submerging into several feet of water on standby.”

    But with a homeless population of more than 6,000 people, many areas have been forgotten, including the part of Coyote Creek near Story and Senter Roads where Garcia lives. More than a dozen advocates who are frustrated with the city response took it upon themselves to go to these to locations. Advocates told Garcia at 10:30 a.m. this morning that it would flood in a matter of hours. Over New Year’s weekend, several encampments were flooded.

    “I wish the city had told us sooner. We could’ve prepared,” Garcia said. “Now I am just grabbing clothes, gas and food.”

    Geraldo Garcia and Graciela Haio, who have been living by Coyote Creek for six months, only had time to grab essentials with the waters rapidly rising. The rest of their possessions had to stay. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    His partner Haio grabbed her three favorite large paintings, which she takes wherever she lives.

    “They make me happy,” Haio said. “I love a lot of other things in there too, but I can’t take it all.”

    The couple doesn’t know where they are going to go but don’t want to risk being swept away in a flood. A couple miles down the creek, unhoused resident Monica Perez is more willing to take the risk. The 63-year- old doesn’t know where to go. Perez said she has been harassed at shelters and her sciatica makes it hard to box up all her belongings.

    Homeless advocates, along with the Lighthouse Ministries, which is shuttling unhoused residents to shelters, tried to convince Perez to leave, but she refused. The ledge she has set up shelter on could very well crumble beneath her, advocates said.

    “What am I going to do without my stuff,” Perez said in Spanish. “It keeps me safe, it keeps me warm. I don’t want anyone telling me to leave because I know none of them are going to help me.”

    Unhoused resident Monica Perez at her shelter above Coyote Creek. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    The National Weather Service predicts San Jose will see 1-2 inches of rain in the next two days, which means creeks and rivers will likely flood. Valley Water spokesperson Matt Keller previously told San José Spotlight he doesn’t anticipate any homes will be flooded. However the agency will monitor hotspots at neighborhoods near the Penitencia Creek County Park on Mabury and King roads, as well as those living near Ross Creek on Cherry Drive and the Guadalupe River near Alma Avenue.

    Residents who live in those hotspots are encouraged to sign up for alerts and use sandbags around their property.

    To sign up for Santa Clara County’s emergency alert system, click here. To sign up for Valley Water’s alert system, click here.

    Residents can find free sandbags here. Residents can also report blockages in waterways and spills by calling Valley Water’s watershed hotline at 408-630-2378.

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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