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Dec 1, 2014 5:37 PM

Clear out of Silicon Valley homeless camp coming

The Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Shouting and banging on doors, city officials in Silicon Valley stapled and taped notices on hand built structures, tents and tree trunks warning more than 200 residents of what is likely the nation's largest homeless encampment that the bulldozers are coming.

People living in the camp, known as The Jungle, must be out by Thursday or face arrest for trespassing.

On Monday morning, more than 20 police offices and construction workers walked through the mile square encampment, more muddy and trash strewn than ever after an unusual fall rainstorm.

"You guys have until Thursday to pull everything out," shouted Carlos Tovar, a contractor hired by the city for debris removal and clean up.

Shouting and banging on doors, the team walked the windy paths between compounds surrounded by woven reeds to tarp strewn structures tied to trees. Bewildered residents, many awakened by the shouts, were handed yellow warning posters: "!!!ATTENTION!!!" read the notices. "The City of San Jose will be conducting a cleanup of illegal encampments in this area...."

Police officers, using batons to smack open plywood doors and knives to cut tent walls, joined about a dozen construction crew members who took photos to document the situation. Residents were ordered to get leashes on the dozens of dogs running loose.

Naomi Garcia crumbled into tears when they thrust the notice into her hand.

"This is hard," she said. "Sorry. Sorry."

Garcia said she's been homeless for seven years and hasn't had the wherewithal to get a social worker, public assistance and housing aid.

"I was waiting for my housing and I never got it," she said. "You have to go to certain places and do certain things and I just couldn't do that."

San Jose Homelessness Response Team Project Manager Ray Bramson said that increased violence, wet weather and unsanitary conditions make it imperative the camp is cleared. In the last month one resident tried to strangle someone with a cord of wire down there, he said. Another was nearly beaten to death with a hammer. And the State Water Resources Control Board has been demanding that polluted Coyote Creek, which cuts through the middle, get cleaned out.

Most residents reluctantly read their notices and said they would have to find another place to park their shopping carts and pitch their tents. But some ran from the authorities.

"We've got a runner," police shouted on occasion, as someone dashed down a muddy path, unpursued, into the tangle of trees and trash.

At least one person was arrested for having an outstanding warrant.

In the past 18 months, the city of San Jose has spent more than $4 million on solving the problems at the encampment, housing 137 people so far.

Former Jungle resident Maria Esther Salazar, who was housed in June after 30 years on the street or in jail, was surprised Thursday to hear her former neighbors were getting moved out.

"That's just tough," she said. "Where are they supposed to go?"

She said she's moved on with her life, seeing a doctor, caring for her dogs, even cooking the Thanksgiving turkey at her brother's house surrounded by family for the first time since she was a child.

Another 60 people in The Jungle have been given housing vouchers to help pay rent but social workers have been unable to find homes for them.

The last camp clean out was in May 2012 when about 150 people were moved out of The Jungle. Many returned and others, swept from other encampments in San Jose, joined them.

The encampment is in stark contrast to its surrounding area in the heart of the Silicon Valley, a region leading the country for job growth, income, innovation and venture capital.

Tech giants Google, Apple, Yahoo, eBay, Facebook, Intel and many more call the 1,850 square mile stretch of business parks, small cities and suburbs south of San Francisco home. But as tech roars back from the recession, housing costs have soared and more than 5000 now people sleep outside in streets, parks and under freeways there.

When The Jungle is cleared later this week, city officials plan to send in trash trucks and bulldozers to haul out tons of hazardous and human waste. They'll use heavy machinery to fill excavated sections where people have been living underground. And they'll try to restore the creek beds.

Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home who has been working to house homeless people in the area, toured the camp last week warning residents they had to get out. But in a parking lot about 20 feet up a hill above The Jungle she sighed and shook her head.

"There's nowhere for them to go," she said. "We don't have the housing. We can't magically create it.


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