San Jose is embarking on a new effort to address the city’s homeless problem. The goal is to make a downtown park accessible to everyone and distribute food to the homeless in a healthy, safe manner.
But some community groups being asked to help in the effort say the plan demonizes the homeless and criminalizes those who bring them food.
The focus of the program is St. James Park, where starting on Aug. 5, police will begin enforcing what will be the illegal distribution of unpermitted food, according to the ordinance.
Homeless advocates found out about the ordinance at a private meeting with city officials and community groups Monday morning, and they were not happy.
"I was very angry because we’re out there, and for the past few nights we’ve been giving food and water, and people are starving," said Jamie Fobergm founder of In Their Shoes.
The advocates said city officials told them police will spend the month of July redirecting the park’s homeless visitors to off-site agencies. The city said it will try to partner with "unpermitted" groups to find alternatives to feeding scenes like those at St. James Park.
After that, police will begin citing groups that continue to feed the homeless in the park.
Pastor Scott Wagers said the plan is "demonizing" homeless people and "criminalizing" those who help.
"Yes, the residents are tired of seeing the homeless, and they’ve written to me a lot, almost hate mail," Wagers said. "They’re saying, 'Stop feeding the homeless.' I’m like, 'Would you want me to let them die?'"
In a letter sent to community partners, Councilman Raul Peralez acknowledged neighborhood complaints that St. James Park is overwhelmed by the homeless feedings. Peralez said the park is becoming a "commune" for the homeless, instead of a place for everyone.
Some homeless people said they feel caught in the middle.
"I was very frugal with my food stamps, but that’s $190, and that’s done within a week and a half, two weeks maximum," Leland Lutz said. "Food is very expensive. It’s very expensive to live in this valley."