Residents of San Jose homeless encampment facing removal alarmed by city's latest action

There was concern and confusion Thursday, for some unhoused San Jose residents. They woke during morning rain to find several police officers and city equipment removing their belongings. Some took the action as a sign they were being forced out earlier than promised by city officials.

"Right now, just trying to gather things and transport. I have a friend, he’s going to be transporting my stuff to the other side," said a woman only identified as Dharma.

She said the loss of her job during the COVID-19 pandemic forced her into homelessness six months ago. Now, she sifted through items as city crews dismantled her make-shift dwelling.

The Guadalupe River Park and Gardens is divided into three zones. The 40-acre site is at the south end of runways for Mineta-San Jose International Airport.

MORE: San Jose city leaders debate plans to remove homeless encampment from near airport

The city is moving roughly 300 unhoused residents in phases, from Zone 2 to 3. The move out of Zone 1 was completed weeks ago. Some residents said moving while homeless is a hassle.

"Yeah it is," said LaTisha, a woman who’s been living in a RV the past six months. "When you just have a fifth-wheeler, and you don’t have a truck and you have to call somebody to move it. Yeah."

City officials said they’re weeks ahead of their Thanksgiving deadline. The ultimate goal is to have the City of San Jose in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration safety guidelines, which the encampment violates.

"We’ve given the city a long time. The FAA has given the city almost a year to clean this out. But when we say clean it out, we don’t mean sweep the people out. We mean find them viable places to live," homeless advocate Ptr. Scott Wagers said Tuesday.

Mayor Sam Liccardo, D-San Jose, said part of the plan is to fast-track construction of three quick-build apartment sites across the city.

City officials say Thursday’s action was only the removal of debris and other trash before heavy rains move through the Bay Area Friday and Sunday.

"We have cleared out over 600,000 pounds of garbage and debris," said Andrew Flores Shelton, deputy director of the San Jose Dept. of Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services.

Flores Shelton said most of the encampment residents have already moved to Zone 3.

"We basically talked to them and they said that is the trash pile that you can remove," she said. "No one must move today. We understand abating encampments is a traumatizing experience."

That word came too late for some here, confused by the removal of items considered both trash, and a staple of their neighborhood.

"We’re all doing our best to get back on our feet and get things  you know, in order," said Dharma.

City officials said the clearing of debris was done during early morning rain because Santa Clara County officials did not issue an inclement weather alert. They hope clear Zone 2 before the area’s  dirt turns to mud over the next few days, making it difficult to remove debris and move residents.