Willow Glen residents come out in force against homeless project
A room full of residents attended the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association meeting Wednesday to discuss relocating Hope Village, a homeless encampment, to the neighborhood.

The deadline to relocate homeless residents at Hope Village is approaching — but some of their potential new neighbors in Willow Glen are asking public officials to opt out.

Emotions ran high Wednesday at a community meeting as some residents expressed concern that the Hope Village project — a sanctioned homeless encampment currently on Ruff Drive — will bring violence, crime and trash to the neighborhood.

“It’s not about the homelessness,” said Mansour Nassar, a Lebanese immigrant who’s been a resident of the neighborhood for almost 40 years. “It is unacceptable that as a community we have to be looking at something that looks like a refugee camp.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said the current location is unsafe because it’s too close to the Mineta San Jose International Airport. City and county officials have proposed moving the homeless village to an empty site off of Willow and Lelong Streets owned by the Santa Clara County Water District to temporarily house the 16 residents — mostly older women — until a long-term plan is drafted.

The new project site will be renamed Compassion Village, which will expand to include up to 30 living structures, according the proposal.

But many residents expressed distrust in county and city officials, claiming that they were not properly informed about the potential site until flyers showed up on their doorsteps. Some threatened to vote San Jose Councilwoman Dev Davis, whose district includes the site, out of office if the project location is approved.

“I understand that it’s something that is scary,” Davis said in an interview Thursday. “Homelessness is prevalent in our whole city and all of our neighborhoods are affected. I can assure everyone that I will be keeping a very close eye on this project and be working to make this project as successful as possible for everyone in the neighborhood.”

As a nearby resident herself, Davis said a lack of information about Hope Village is stoking fears and that the goal is for all “unhoused residents to transition into permanent and stable housing.”

Others, while sympathetic to the homeless community of Hope Village, asserted that the location is unsafe because of  the threat of flooding and that the city should invest in finding a better, long-term site, such as at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.

The county is planning to lease the property from the Water District until January 2021, according to documents from County Executive Jeff Smith.

“We believe that the best location is the county fairgrounds,” said resident Ed Rast. “(It’s) a large piece of land where they can put a clinic in and provide services, and won’t have to move it. Right now this is going to be the third site in a couple years. Now, we’ll have to move it again and it makes no sense.”

Others called for a compassionate and empathetic response to the families who are living in tents at Hope Village.

“The reality is that the people are already there,” said resident and local pastor Brett Bymaster. “It’s their only place to go. It will probably impact me, but I want to sacrifice for people. Put it in my backyard. We need more people to say that.”

A few in the crowd Wednesday night were formerly homeless, or currently live in Hope Village now.

“I never hear anyone say I wanna be homeless. No one says I wanna have cancer,” said Robert Aguirre who was formerly unhoused. “These are things that happen to us — they’re not things that we choose. Fortunately I’m housed now, but every person that is homeless is hanging on to what they can for survival.”

Peter Miron-Clonk, Director of the Hope Village Project said people don’t distinguish between Hope Village and problems that occur when people live on the streets.

“They think that we can’t bring in Hope Village because it’s going to be the same as what they’re experiencing now,” he said.

Supervisor Dave Cortese said the county didn’t want Hope Village to move at all from its current site.

“We asked the city for an additional six month option, and we originally asked them for a one year lease,” Cortese said. “Let’s keep looking for alternative locations. Worst case scenario is people are walking with their tents out in the rain with nowhere to go when in fact we could have found a better place to put tents in at least temporarily.”

The Board of Supervisors, San Jose and Santa Clara County Water District officials must approve the location before March 30. Two more community meetings will be held next week.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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