'The last hope': Unhoused residents living on SJ baseball field face deadline to vacate area

To some, it's being hailed as the "Field of Dreams," but to others it's being called the the "Field of Death."

Amanda del Castillo Image
Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Homeless living on SJ baseball field face deadline to vacate
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Roughly 100 unhoused residents living on a baseball field at San Jose's Columbus Park now have a Oct. 7 deadline to vacate the area.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- There are roughly 100 unhoused residents are living on a baseball field at San Jose's Columbus Park. The area is across the street from what used to be the city's largest encampment near the Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC).

With yet another abatement deadline looming, there is confusion about the City of San Jose's issued timeline and questions about what comes next.

To some, it's being hailed as the "Field of Dreams," but to others it's being called the the "Field of Death."

However, for the 100 unhoused residents, the baseball field is home.

"Everyone out here went from two fields and a park, down to just one field, and then down to one area," said a resident, who asked to be identified only as Bryan.

Bryan has spent the last two-and-a-half years in the area.

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At the peak of the pandemic, hundreds of unhoused residents either found or built shelter on the neighboring 40-acre parcel of land near SJC.

The area was cleared only recently for the city to meet a federal deadline.

Many residents moved across the street to the Columbus Park baseball field.

"This is Spring, that's Columbus," advocate Shaunn Cartwright with the Unhoused Response Group said, while pointing to the areas surrounding the field. "And that has a number of names, based on whether you think that it's safe or not."

"But, this is the last hope that people have - are these last few blocks," she continued.

An abatement notice was recently posted by the City of San Jose with an Oct. 7 deadline.

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A burglary investigation led SJPD to a sophisticated underground bunker at a homeless encampment with $100,000 worth of stolen items and firearms.

However, city officials confirmed crews will start by removing inoperable vehicles - a majority of the 140 parked at the site.

The City of San Jose is not anticipating to completely clear the field encampment until Nov. 18.

"They post a date and it freaks everybody out. And you find out later... well, it's only sorta, kinda that date," Cartwright explained. "Because it's really for the next two weeks. But they don't tell the unhoused folks that."

Residents confirmed a clear timeline was not communicated with them.

"Trying to find out what the deadline actually is," Bryan began to say, as an airplane interrupted his sentence.

We paused our interview as a plane flew overhead. This aircraft approach is the reason city officials say the area needs to be cleared.

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"Although not part of the 40-acre FAA-funded land, multiple city departments are collaborating on a plan to clear Columbus Park by Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, and prevent re-encampment of the surrounding areas," a city memo read.

Daniel Lazo with the city's Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services department added, "Per the FAA direction, it is unsafe for people to live on the land directly under the flight path of the airport. And the flight path includes Columbus Park."

"You know, significant fire and safety hazards created by this new encampment are extraordinarily difficult to mitigate," he continued.

With the city's concern come questions from homeless advocates about where the unhoused will go.

"If you don't build enough permanent supportive housing, and enough low income housing for people to go into, this is just gonna keep going," unhoused advocate Cartwright told ABC7 News. "From another camp to another camp to another camp. And everyone's like, 'Not in my backyard,' but they are in your backyard."

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