Unauthorized tent village hopes to provide solution to San Jose homeless housing

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018
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San Jose advocacy groups set up a model tent city for the homeless on an unused state parking lot, without permission -- just to prove a point.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A homeless village has popped up in San Jose that's unlike any you've seen before. Advocates for the homeless decided to buck the system and create a tent city on public property without permission -- just to prove a point.

Just a week ago, volunteers started creating what they call Hope Village in an unused state parking lot adjacent to the Employment Development Dept. office on W. Hedding St. at Ruff Dr. Three community groups working on homeless issues raised $10,000 to buy the tents and other equipment with a goal of housing 10 homeless people.

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"We sort of got tired of waiting for the government to act," said Peter Miron-Conk, the co-founder of San Jose Catholic Worker/Casa de Clara. "We came up with the idea of a tent village as being economical, something you could put together fast, and it's clearly way better conditions." The other two groups supporting the effort are San Jose Residents for Housing Solutions and San Jose Sleeping Bags for the Homeless.

There's room at Hope Village for 10 residents. Seven have moved in. All were selected because they're not drug users and are known to volunteers from previous outreach.

Charles Nelson used to be a warehouseman, but ended up living in a homeless encampment when he couldn't afford to pay rent. He was laid off from work and he collects Social Security. However, his income is insufficient to pay for rent, food and other living expenses. He has been homeless, living in an encampment at Old Oakland and Schallenberger Roads. Here in the tent village, he says he feels secure.

"Stable environment, I can go to school, don't have to worry about stuff being stolen," he said. "We have a common area where we can cook. A home-cooked meal, you know."

Other residents include a former firefighter, postal worker and public school teacher.

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Technically, they're squatting on state property. The sponsors have been warned the residents might be evicted. But they're taking that risk in order to convince city, county and state officials that this is a good concept to meet immediate needs, rather than waiting years for homeless housing projects to be built. A former Sunnyvale city councilmember, who came by to check out Hope Village, agrees that sometimes unconventional methods are needed.

"It's easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. That's OK. That's not a bad thing," said Jim Davis. "This particular site is a real good example of a good way of using that tenet."

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Hope Village has restrooms, and a portable shower facility will be available several times a week. A security fence surrounds the village, and there's even a locked cage for bicycles.

The tent village has been kept under wraps during the eight months of planing and fundraising for fear the project might be blocked. They're going public Tuesday, now that it's operating, hoping that it will spawn similar homeless villages in abandoned or little used parking lots with asphalt surfaces that won't flood or get muddy during the rainy season.

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