Residents of Silicon Valley homeless camp clear 48,000 Lbs of garbage from creek, ask for housing

Silicon Valley's legendary housing crisis — now several decades old — has led to the establishment of semi-permanent homeless camps on public lands, including a notable camp on the banks of Coyote Creek, on Santa Clara County Water District land.

Illegal dumping and the waste disposal problems of homelessness have blighted the creek. A group called the Coyote Creek Homeless Stream Stewards have begun to stage mass cleanups of the creek, with bounties (tickets for raffles for prizes ranging from gift cards to bicycles) awarded to people who fill trash-bags. The most recent cleanup netted 48,000 pounds of garbage.

The homeless people participating in the cleanup have a request for the city: allow them to formalize their tent-city — going beyond the Seattle model, replacing the tents and shacks with tiny houses.

Of course, San Jose isn't unique: the American urban homeless encampment is now ubiquitous in cities across the country, though it's hard to say how bad the problem is because we don't even count homelessness.

Water district board member Richard Santos is cautious about the proposal to establish a tiny houses village on district land, citing legal impediments to the proposal, and logistics from sanitation to school-bus stops.

Santos, one of three board members on the committee, said that he thinks McMurtry's proposal is a good one but that the committee cannot be hasty before presenting its ideas to the larger board. The tiny house encampment is rife with liability issues and questions about how to make various proposed spots fully livable with services from water access to school buses.

"What people want is some magic wand to put 90 or 100 houses on (the water district's) land," Santos said. "First you have to find out, from the city and the county: Can we allow that? It would be terrible of us to move people onto our property and then six months later evict them."

Regardless of how the tiny house plan turns out, Fukamoto hopes the Homeless Stream Stewards will demonstrate why the homeless should be included, rather than fought against, in the clean creek effort.

"They think we're stupid," Fukamoto said, referring to the community at large. "They think that we're worthless. But if they would just educate the people out here, they'd be more than willing to clean up. They just don't have the know-how."

Homeless remove 48,000 pounds of trash from San Jose creek
[Hannah Knowles/San Jose Mercury News]

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(Image: Silicon Valley, Coolcaesar, CC-BY-SA)