Why San Jose's Largest Homeless Encampment Feels Like Occupy

San Jose is getting cold. Over the past two weeks several people who live in the streets have died due to hypothermia. The community responded to the deaths in what is one of the largest homeless encampments in America, called "The Jungle", 12 miles away from Apple headquarters right in the heart of the Silicon Valley.


Last night, CHAM (Community Homeless Alliance Ministry's) along with several other faith based communities held a memorial at "the Jungle"--the largest homeless encampment in the country. This encampment is two blocks away from several empty buildings, about 6 miles away from City Hall, and about 12 miles away from Apple headquarters -- one of the wealthiest companies in the world. So some of the questions our community of conscious have been asking is:

Why are these vacant buildings not open to those who need shelter? Why is City Hall not taking action on getting these buildings open immediately? Why is a company that does not pay fair taxes not responsible for the funding needed in its own county to help? And furhermore, how can it be that the wealthiest area in the country has 7600 human beings without homes?

Well, last week we held a memorial, prayed as a community, and went down into the jungle to distribute blankets, hot soup, clothes and food.

Walking through "The Jungle" for the first time gave me flash backs to Occupy. A major difference between Occupy and the Jungle though was that the people in the Jungle were not living in tents by choice, they had no choice. What reminded me of Occupy though was the community. We have this assumption that when times get desperate people become selfish and only look out for themselves when in reality, the as the jungle shows, its quite the opposite; in times of disparity that’s when human beings need each other more than ever.

We were guided through the jungle by Juanita, a mother of seven children who had to give up her kids to prevent them from living on the streets. Juanita took us through the camp where people came out to receive soup and blankets so thankfully. Juanita explained to us that the community looks out for each other. When someone has no tent, they share tents. When someone has no food, they share food. When someone is hurt or sick, they care for each other. There is about 200 people living in the jungle. We came across a child that was only two years old living in the jungle. These people have been forgotten by the community they come from. A lot of these people were not born homeless and infact lived in the San Jose community for a long time before they could no longer afford the wealthiest area in the country. When they received soup from us, they thanked us for coming down genuinely. It seems like those living in the jungle feel as if the rest f the world has forgotten about them, especially their own city. What we take for granted they need such as clean water, food, clothes, women products. Their basic human needs are not being met. Some feel forced to take baths in the creek. Juanita told us of her friend who hurt his leg and needed medication to prevent infection -- medication he can’t afford.

But is the wake of the tragic deaths, and a raised consciousness surrounding the awareness of homelessness in Silicon Valley, there are several new moments for the public to act. Here are a couple.

December 16th - Protest at Apple Inc regarding them paying their fair share of taxes specifically to off set the sequesters that left 16000 families with rent increases of double triple or more. The county has no money to house those in need and Apple does give t county their proper taxes to the county.

December 20th - The Free Market. Students from Yerba Buena high school are hosting a free market at the jungle from 8 am to 130pm giving away all clothes, blankets and food to the jungle community. All donations are accepted and volunteer work and support is welcomed.

Photos by Kymeira Stewart

About Andrew "Society" Bigelow

Andrew "Society" Bigelow is writer and organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug. He is a recognized spoken word artist and a San Jose based Hip Hop artist. He has recently released his song and video "Gold Out West" discussing Silicon Valley's economic disparities.

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You should also ask why on the night of the deaths, the beds at homeless shelters weren't at capacity. Meaning people were choosing not to stay there. Meaning opening more buildings is not the answer to helping those in need.

Wrong. People do not know on any given night whether shelter beds are available or not. Because San Jose's powers that be have always done their best to banish "undesirables" from downtown, most shelters are located three or more miles away. People will not walk three miles (each way) if they believe there is a less than 50% chance there will be a bed available for them. Not to mention many of them are disabled or in poor health and cannot walk that far in the first place - and do not have money for the bus. Not to mention that they cannot carry their gear on the back - and if they abandon their campsite it may well be stolen. And if the beds are not available next week they will have to sleep outside again. Not to mention those who have mental health issues and cannot live in close quarters with others. And lots of other reasons. So opening buildings can be part of the solution, if they are in the downtown area and admit people consistently instead of by lottery. But the real solution is affordable housing that can be rented at a third of one's income. If the richest valley in the richest country in the world cannot even house its own people, then I have to ask in all sincerity, what is it good for?

I second SP's comments. There simply has to be a better way of addressing these crippling social issues.

The question of why people.dont go to the shelters is a common one among people who dont know anything about being homeless. Indeed sleeping in a tent without electricity. Plumbing or any kind of insulation is simply.survival level. Generally speaking the shelters have few guaranteed beds. Most shelters are short term, some on a daily basis. Beibg homeless is time.consuming. As of yet. The #tough love# policies of the City of San Jose do not include any one stop multi service centers.

Certainly in general people do not go hungry in San Jose. Other services like showers, laundry, advocacy, health care, counseling and even the much lauded case management are an entirely different category.

It is really easy to blame the homeless until.you.become one of them.

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