San Jose allowed to resume clearing Columbus Park encampment

The city of San Jose has the go-ahead from a federal judge to resume its efforts to clear out the homeless encampment at Columbus Park.

U.S. District Court Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley lifted the temporary restraining order put in place on Nov. 16 that had blocked the city from clearing the encampment at Columbus Park.

"Plaintiffs have not shown they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims or that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of the TRO [temporary restraining order]" Corley wrote in the court filing dissolving the temporary restraining order.

Residents of the encampment sued the city of San Jose earlier this month and were granted the temporary pause on clearing the encampment. 

"It sure doesn’t give people comfort out here knowing that the city can show up at any time and remove them now," Scott Largent, a homeless advocate who was formerly homeless in San Jose, said. He added that more residents have joined the lawsuit against the city this week, bringing the plaintiff count from seven to 24. 

"This is just the start," Largent said of their efforts to halt the abatement, noting that the plaintiffs will push the court for more temporary restraining orders.

Corley dissolved the Nov. 16 temporary restraining order and determined that the city of San Jose followed the appropriate steps in the abatement process —giving notice to the encampment residents of the abatement plan, allowing them to join a housing waitlist and sign up for other services offered through the city's housing pipeline, and providing up to 90 days of storage space for personal belongings, as well as placards to allow them to continue living in their vehicles in the park or in the adjacent areas until housing becomes available.

Largent and the residents who are suing the city claim the city isn't storing their belongings for them to get back later. Rather, they claim the city is illegally seizing their property, and discarding it.

"I don't know a single homeless person that has gotten their property back," Largent said, adding that he's called and contacted several city agencies and city partners, trying to get his own belongings back, to no avail.

City workers began clearing the encampment earlier this month on the grounds that it was creating "dangerous nuisance conditions" at the park and nearby areas.

The encampment at Columbus Park emerged due to the city clearing out its largest encampment near the San Jose airport, per a mandate by the Federal Aviation Administration.

When that vacant lot was cleared this fall, some residents received shelter and housing, while 146 others who didn't get a placement relocated nearby to Columbus Park, according to court filings by the city.

The city of San Jose is now working on an updated timeline for the abatement of the Columbus Park encampment.