By Khalida Sarwari
An unsanctioned tent encampment in San Jose that local homeless advocates are touting as a model for temporary housing can stay put for six months at its third location in a couple of weeks, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday.
The unanimous vote came a day after residents at the encampment had to leave their second location on Ruff Drive. The encampment’s 14 residents are being put up at area motels until Thursday morning while the latest Ruff Drive site — a city-owned lot between the local Service Employees International Union office and the Employment Development Department — is prepared for habitation.
The board’s action will allow Hope Village to operate on property San Jose has agreed to lease to the county for $1 a month. The encampment initially sprung up Sept. 8 on state land along Ruff Drive before it was forced to relocate to the nearby SEIU site.
Peter Miron-Conk, the co-founder of the nonprofit Casa de Clara Catholic Worker and a lead organizer of the encampment, was among the more than dozen people who urged the board Tuesday to continue supporting Hope Village. He and others also asked the board to consider expanding the site to accommodate an additional 16 residents.
“Our goal was to offer a safe environment for people and do this in a clean, organized fashion,” he said. “We think we accomplished that. Our ragtag army of four people was able to accomplish something that has not been done in years.”
A woman who identified herself as a homeless advocate and researcher in San Jose told the supervisors her research suggests the encampment model has proven to work in other cities, citing Eugene, Oregon and Seattle as examples.
“These are two municipalities who have accomplished this providing continuum of care towards permanent housing for their unhoused residents and I’m sure we can do it here in our county of Santa Clara,” she said.
The status quo is “unconscionable and inadequate,” Home Village resident James Malenka said. “The suffering is very real. This is an opportunity for us just to have the simplest of things. You’re talking about two-by-four insulation in the ground, soap, heat, water; it becomes very important. We were able to get solar panels. We can charge our phones even. My point is there’s certainly room for a lot more range of approaches besides building housing units that quickly become filled.”
Before Hope Village, Curtis Carpentier lived in a tent under a bridge near the San Jose Municipal Golf Course. His new living conditions have enabled him to start looking for work again, he said.
“Everybody deserves to have access to trash pick-up, toilets, fresh water and a secure place to live,” he said. “You can’t apply for a job if you stink.”
During the board’s deliberations, Supervisor Cindy Chavez said she favors a gradual expansion of the site through a partnership with San Jose. She also commended the approach taken by the Hope Village leadership team.
“I had a conversation with somebody at the state about how different the situation would have been if Hope Village had just asked the state if they could have access to the property,” she said. “Really you forced all of us to choose to act or choose not to act.”