‘We’re tired of this life’: San Jose sweeps another homeless camp
Angelica Lopez talks with Mercedes Lewis on Corie Court in San Jose near a homeless encampment in Coyote Creek that the city swept on May 15, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    A small army of backhoes, earthmovers, garbage trucks, pickups and police cars rolled out of Corie Court in Central San Jose Monday afternoon, after crews spent hours working to clear out a major homeless encampment along Coyote Creek.

    The city-led effort focused on moving out hundreds of homeless people who live near the creek bed. City workers and contractors tore down tents and makeshift homes ahead of the start date for a critical Valley Water flood control project centered near Corie Court and the San Jose Municipal Golf Course.

    While efforts to move people from the area were seemingly successful, homeless advocates and people living in the creek said the city is consistently failing them,  pushing out the unhoused when there aren’t other places to go.

    “I understand this project is a necessary thing, and everybody is going to benefit from this project because it’s going to prevent flooding,” homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright told San José Spotlight. “But there should have been more done to make sure the most fragile and the most traumatized, and the most at risk people, the unhoused, were protected first.”

    A San Jose Police Department car parked in a portion of a homeless encampment along Coyote Creek near Corie Court. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Cartwright said the city doesn’t have enough shelter or housing to offer the hundreds of people living in this section of the creek. So these sweeps are, essentially, ineffective and not a permanent solution to a years-long problem.

    Omar Passons, a San Jose deputy city manager focused on homelessness, said in a memo issued Monday the city is contending with a “constrained supply of existing shelter options,” and tight timelines for Valley Water’s flood protection project.

    “This is hard on everybody, especially the unhoused community,” Passons told San José Spotlight at the camp Monday. “As a city, in support of Valley Water’s project, we are doing our level best to do this work with compassion.”

    Some people were offered spaces in the city’s growing number of tiny homes, which are used as temporary housing in an ongoing effort to transition people into permanent housing.

    “Offering people the tiny homes is just like offering people a stay in middle school, but knowing there are no high schools being built for them to matriculate to, so everybody is eventually going to drop out,” Cartwright said.

    Rain, 36, who lived at the camp and didn’t give a last name, said though the city gave residents about a month’s notice of the incoming sweep, officials over-promised people would be connected with housing and supportive services.

    “But we didn’t get nothing but food and water,” she told San José Spotlight. “Only a select few got housing.”

    She said some were offered tiny homes at the city’s police station parking lot.

    “It looks like a concentration camp, we’re not going to go there,” she said.

    Rain, a 36-year-old homeless resident, said the city over-promised on connecting people to housing and supportive services. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    While the city swept residents from the creek, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan held a news conference calling for more of the city’s Measure E funding to be diverted away from building permanent affordable homes into homeless services and temporary shelter.

    San Jose has more than 6,600 people experiencing homelessness—the highest number the city has seen in the last 13 years. Mahan has repeatedly touted short-term housing as a cheaper and faster alternative to building affordable homes. It gets people off the streets and on a pathway toward long-term housing.

    “Everything (the city) is doing is short term,” said Elvira Garcia, a volunteer with Echo.Church in San Jose, who regularly brings food to and prays with people living in the camp. “It’s kind of just putting a Band-Aid on it.”

    Cartwright said some of the same people swept out of the Columbus Park homeless encampment near San Jose Mineta International Airport last year moved to the creek near Corie Court, and are already returning to the park.

    “It just tells you how much failure there is going on,” Cartwright said. “If we don’t have more permanent supportive housing, then we will continue to have this problem, and so the mayor’s plan to kill off permanent housing will only make this problem worse.”

    Angelica Lopez, 39, lived in a home she and her partner built near the creek for about three and a half years. City crews tore it down Monday.

    While trying to tow her RV out of the area, her truck’s wheel broke, stranding her. One of her dogs ran off during the commotion and was killed by a car, she said.

    Being frequently swept out of places she has lived is the most stressful part of her decade of homelessness, she said.

    “We’re trying our best to find something stable, because we’re tired of this life. So tired,” Lopez told San José Spotlight.

    Lopez said she and her neighbors in the creek all know each other and looked out for one another, she said.

    “We felt like a little village, like our own little family. We help each other, without bothering anybody outside,” she said.

    Asked what she would do now, Lopez sighed.

    “We’re going to start struggling in the street.”

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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