SAN JOSE, Calif. - Hundreds of unhoused San Jose residents face an uncertain future. This, as the city is under pressure from the federal government to clear a homeless encampment at the edge of the San Jose airport's runways.
The past five years or so, there have been one-to-two dozen unhoused residents living in the space. But the COVID-19 pandemic swelled those numbers.
"I think this is the largest camp I’ve ever seen. And it maybe even bigger than the jungle was. And I remember vividly 2014 when they swept the jungle. That’s the beginning of what we see now," said Pastor Scott Wagers, a South Bay homeless advocate.
He and others said upwards of 300-to-400 people are here in tents and boxes and vehicles. But that will come to an end next year according to the federal government.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said this 40-acre plot of land is not fit for habitation, because of the noise from jet engines as planes fly overhead for a landing at Mineta San Jose International Airport.
In a letter to the airport, administration brass write in part, "…It’s not the FAA’s intent to show disregard for the homeless crisis, only to ensure that use of Airport property does not become the solution to the crisis."
San Jose city officials say they’ve begun working on a plan to remove the encampment, and that it’s a daunting task.
"We are balancing the FAA’s requirements with the need to treat all encampment residents with dignity and humanity," said Neil Rufino, of San Jose Dept. of Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services. "We are considering a number of housing and shelter options. But frankly, it’s going to be challenging." Added Wagers, "I’ve heard a lot of talk. I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric. There’s money for the unhoused. But you’re gonna have to do something incredible to make this one work."
Late Friday, Mineta San Jose International Airport officials emailed a statement that read in part, there’s a, "…need to find a balanced approach between providing safe, reliable air service in accordance with local and federal regulations, and a thoughtful solution to encampments on Airport property."
The FAA has set a hard deadline of April 2022 for the residents to be out, and fencing to go up.