San Jose

Sweep of Homeless Encampment Near San Jose Airport Delayed

Following an outpouring of response from advocates, politicians and the media, organizers of a privately funded homeless encampment in San Jose say law enforcement officials have backed off on enforcing a 72-hour notice to vacate the camp.

Hope Village sits in an empty parking lot boxed off by Mineta San Jose International Airport, the Guadalupe River Creek and the state Employment Development Department on Ruff Drive and West Hedding Street. The collection of tents is surrounded by a fence and has a bathroom, solar power and a central gathering area.

Peter Miron-Conk, who co-founded Casa de Clara Catholic Worker, is among a small group of people who planned and constructed the camp, which opened on Saturday.

The organized dwelling had only been open for two days when it received a 72-hour notice from the California Highway Patrol, according to Miron-Conk.

Officer Ross Lee, spokesman for the CHP San Jose office, said the encampment was reported to the CHP on Monday because the site is on state property as a parking lot for the Employment Development Department.

Miron-Conk and other organizers began calling local politicians, media and finding contacts who could buy them time. He said the camp is currently negotiating with the city, county and the CHP to find them a safe place to relocate, but "there's no rapid action to get us out of here."

He added that CHP Capt. Ceto Ortiz has spoken to him and seems committed to a "peaceful resolution."

Lee confirmed today that despite the agency giving a verbal 72-hour notice to vacate earlier this week, "currently we do not have a planned sweep to go in and remove them."

Lee said the CHP is "in the process of seeing if we can come to another resolution by working with city, county and state officials to see if there's a more appropriate location for the encampment."

The camp has the capacity for about 25 tents and there are currently seven tenants. If negotiations are successful, Miron-Conk said the camp will think about accommodating more residents.

A majority of the people at Hope Village used to live in an encampment on Corie Court and Oakland Road. Miron-Conk met them while operating a mobile shower program, and discussed the project with them over the course of two months at a McDonald's on Oakland and Brokaw roads.

After searching for the right location, organizers settling on the state-owned land across from a defunct Santa Clara County traffic court building.

Residents who live at Hope Village cannot have substance abuse issues, serious mental health problems or a history of violent behavior. Miron-Conk said he wishes the camp could be inclusive of a larger population of homeless individuals, but said the camp wouldn't succeed against political and social pressure otherwise.

James, a 59-year-old resident at the camp, grew up in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and moved to California to begin working. He's college-educated and said he has a small, but loving circle of friends.

"You must realize how very humble this is," James said, gesturing at his 8-by-8-feet tent, propped up on a wooden platform. "It is the minimum of the barest of common decency. It's not quite what I thought it would be, but look at the other side."

Since he first began living on the streets in 2013, he said he has seen tractors scoop up people's belongings in encampment sweeps and disabled, elderly individuals lose all of their possessions.

James said he became homeless on his own terms, but his story is atypical, and many others struggle with major health problems and injuries.

"It's very expensive to be poor," he said, describing having to buy every meal, being "chained" to libraries and restaurants to charge his phone and replace items that are either stolen or taken in sweeps.

James said Hope Village is a welcome respite from the creek-side paths and dirt patches he and others have lived on before.

Though San Jose is making progress in its affordable housing goals, Miron-Conk said a truly changed housing landscape is years away.

"It's not tolerable, we got tired of waiting," he said.

Ragan Henninger, deputy director of housing for the city, said the CHP has contacted Councilman Tam Nguyen's office to discuss the next step for Hope Village.

"From the department's perspective, we understand that the need is great and we know that there are people suffering on the street," Henninger said. "Traditionally stationed encampments are not a national best practice ... but that being said, we recognize that we need to find a solution that houses a greater quantity of people."

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