Cleanup begins at San Jose homeless encampment


San Jose police and animal rescue officers stood by as volunteers from non-profit groups removed tents, tarps, mattresses, clothing, cooking equipment and other debris from makeshift camps in the fields west of the Guadalupe River.

Only about 20 or 30 people were still residing in the widespread, grassy parkland, down from around 100 who were there last weekend before the San Jose Housing Department posted notices to vacate on tents and trees, said Ray Bramson, a department spokesman.

San Jose has limited emergency shelter facilities with about 50 beds available for overnight housing for those who are evicted today and still have no place to live.

"Everyone remaining here, we could provide shelter for them tonight," said Bramson as a Southwest Airlines plane flew loudly overhead toward Mineta San Jose International Airport, which claims use of the parkland as an emergency landing site.

No one was arrested this morning and Bramson said he does he not expect anyone will be today since people are complying with police.

The city, which funds non-profit homeless assistance groups Destination Home and EHC Lifebuilders, is in the midst of a program to identify 1,000 of San Jose's most vulnerable homeless people for extended stays in shelters by 2015, Bramson said.

In the middle of the expansive parkland, a large garbage truck left Spring Street and backed up onto a muddy road near some encampments.

Workers from the San Jose Conservation Corps, in yellow hats and vests, put trash into clear plastic bags and flung them into the rear of the truck.

Possessions claimed as property by the homeless were tagged and stuffed into bags to be stored at a facility in San Jose for free for up to 90 days, Bramson said.

Michael Stephens, 56, a San Jose native, looked bewildered as a uniformed police officer watched him clear things from his improvised tent and drop them into four old shopping carts.

Stephens, who lived in the tent with his cat, Missy, said he suffers from untreated mental illness and is not sure where he will go.

"It's hard to get help because everyone is trying to get help," Stephens said. "After I pack up, I'll go look around. I might just camp out.

"I've been here for six months," he said. "It's been nice not being told to move."

Kristina Erbenich, 38, was removing her property from a small, curved tent she shares with her boyfriend, David Venn, 50.

Erbenich said she is a retired chef from Philadelphia who came to San Jose to be treated for a serious illness at Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto but now receives treatment at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.

She has a job but after paying health insurance, she does not have enough money to afford housing and Venn, a motorcycle repairman, cannot work because his driver's license was suspended and he does not have the $500 to pay his fine.

"You're broke by the time of your next paycheck," she said. "I guess we'll go along and find a place to camp out around 'No Trespassing' signs.

"I don't know where to go," Erbenich said. "I have an income but I don't have enough to make it."

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