Advocates frustrated by new barriers installed at San Jose’s biggest homeless encampment

Advocates frustrated by new barriers installed at San Jose’s biggest homeless encampment
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By Wesley Severson - Published on December 01, 2021.

The city of San Jose is adding a new tactic in the battle to clear a huge homeless encampment near Mineta San Jose International Airport at the request of the FAA. City crews have now installed what are known as K-Rail barriers at the Spring and Hedding street intersection near Columbus Park. San Jose spokesperson Daniel Lazoto told San Jose Spotlight that "the barriers will help decrease high-speed traffic and illegal dumping." But many believe the barriers won’t stop any of that, and they just amount to anti-homeless architecture. 

Lazoto says the new barriers were meant to create a dead-end street but were placed in such a way that they would not impact homeless advocates who frequent the area to provide food, blankets, and other supplies and services. But some homeless advocates say the barriers are making it much harder to access the camp which now has around 150 residents, compared to the estimated 400 to 500 a few months ago. “We literally had to walk the trails and could barely get in. The whole thing is frustrating to me. The message being sent here is, ‘you’re not wanted here, we’re not going to make it easy on you,'” local pastor Scott Wagers told San José Spotlight.

Crews have installed ‘no outlet/not a through street’ signs at Spring and Ashbury streets to help prevent people from driving down the road. One resident says neither the barriers nor the signs are keeping people out. “They just pull right down Spring Street and dump anyway,” RV dweller Scott Largent told Spotlight. Largent also says that people often use dirt roads to go around the barriers into the camp. The city says the barriers will stay in place permanently. 

In August, Hoodline reported that the city of San Jose started trying to clear the camp at the request of the FAA, which was threatening to withhold funding if no action by the city. At the time, the camp took up just over 40 acres of airport land. After months of work, city crews have apparently been able to clean up about 25 acres of the encampment. 

The Spotlight reports that just 17 people have been officially moved from the camp into some form of housing. That has many advocates fearing that many of the airport encampment residents are scattering to areas of San Jose that aren’t subject to homeless sweeps like Guadalupe Creek. “When you let people live in the creek bed, it’s a dereliction of duty by the government,” Wagers told the Spotlight.