ENCAMPMENT, YES. HOW TO MAKE IT WORK, THAT’S THE TOUGH PART.
The attention that some of my recent rants have received, a few people have suggested that I address some of the current issues facing San Jose and it’s homeless community. I have also been asked by a friend, via a FB message what I think, so here goes.
San Jose made big news a number of months ago when the infamous ‘Jungle’ was shut down. I for one never set foot there, though I did see the videos later on, documenting the conditions that were found there. I found them absolutely deplorable, and I for one endorse and applaud the city for closing down the jungle.
The idea of having a city endorsed homeless encampment is nothing new. I think it would be a grand idea, but there are so many snares and pitfalls to doing so, that I see any attempt would likely turn into another ‘Jungle’ scenario.
If I may be so bold, let me walk the reader through what I see as some of the problems, and in a few cases, possible solutions.
Location. I’ve seen areas in San Jose that are virtually un-used, that would make far better locations that what some would prefer. St. James park is an absolute ‘No’ in my book. Behind city hall I think is a bad idea also. What would work best would be an open area, away from the areas where families with young children should be free to run and play. No well manicured parks should be used for this (read St James Park). My suggestion would be, there are a number of areas to the west of downtown, under the freeway overpasses, that are in general use now, and could very well be good choices.
Sanitation: Keeping the place clean, plain and simply. This includes policing the area for trash, debri, and other items that belong in a dumpster. If you have seen the videos of the jungle, that is precisely what should not be avoided. More importantly than trash, debri, and ‘what have you’ is human waste issues. If you have an encampment, that is being littered with human urine and feces, this is just begging for the breakout of disease and plague. Solution: This one is fairly easy, portable toilets. Sure, you can expect them to stink, and to be absolutely horrible to go in to after no more than a day or so. This is where the portable toilets would best be placed near the closest possible road access, so a ‘sugar truck’ could have easy access to them, for their daily (or semi daily) cleaning.
Security: This is the tough one. You know for certain that these encampments are going to attract a certain criminal element. Gang bangers, drug dealers, the mentally ill, and just the general belligerent and hostile members of the community. Would I suggest a constant police presence, No. I think one of the solutions is to have appointed ‘keepers of the peace’. How exactly? Don’t know. I do believe that I think there should be a very low tolerance for infractions of the peace. Zero tolerance? No, not in most cases, I don’t believe. What would be tolerated, would need to be addressed, and how ? Legal substances I would think would need to be tolerated, as long as it’s only in the direct vicinity of the users immediate area (read: inside their tent(s) or within arms reach of the area they’re inhabiting. Therefore, no keggers, no standing about passing the bottle around, no smoke outs. Simply, use what you like, as long as it’s legal, and you keep it to yourself. Illegal drug use I think should have a much lower tolerance. Crack, meth, etc…. I believe the tolerance level for this should be absolutely zero. How to enforce this ? Don’t know.
There are just so many variables in this scenario that I think it would be an issue that would need to be addressed in a case by case basis.
I also believe, that as soon as any encampment becomes another ‘Jungle’, that it needs to be shut down immediately.
I’m certain that this subject should be open for debate, for refinement, but should definitely be addressed soon, so that the homeless community would have a place to go, with no fear of being rousted on any given night at 3 AM.
I do speak from first hand knowledge. I am one of the member of the San Jose homeless. I consider myself ‘comfortably homeless’, and in general I don’t ‘camp’ with others, as I have space issues, so I don’t really know that I’d join a homeless encampment, but it would be nice to have that option. I have often thought I would be best served by having a Yuka tree out in the middle of the Mojave, where my nearest neighbors would be the occasional snake or rabbit.
If you wish to email me and tell me that I’ve got my head planted firmly up my south side, feel free. If you with to email me and debate these issues, I’m open to that also. If you wish to email me and tell me I suck as a writer, save your time, I already know that.
San Jose, CA