San Jose councilman spends night at city-sanctioned Portland homeless encampment

Image 1 of 3

It's an unprecedented trip for a San Jose city councilmember to help with the city's homeless crisis. On Friday night, Tam Nguyen is spending the night at a sanctioned homeless encampment in Portland.

Nguyen said he wanted to explore the idea of a tent village firsthand as a possible immediate solution, given the City of San Jose has 4,000 homeless people.

With the closure of the City of San Jose's largest illegal homeless encampment, "The Jungle," back in 2014, the city has been studying ways to house all the homeless people forced out.

"I'm going to become a real homeless person tonight," said Nguyen. "I'm going to form in line and sign my name."

For Nguyen that means exploring the controversial concept of a legal tent village.  He's staying at sanctioned encampment known as a "Right to Dream Too." He sees it as a potential model for the City of San Jose to house homeless temporarily.
"We have no other option," said Nguyen. "We don't have any other option. The only goal San Jose is trying to do is find permanent housing."

"Everything the city has proposed is going to take a year or two even the motel-hotel conversions, they haven't started doing that yet," said Homeless Advocate Robert Aguirre.

Aguirre who is a former "Jungle" resident introduced the idea of the Portland encampment to the city council. For five years, on private property with city support, it has successfully housed 125 people in tents.

"If there is a sanctioned encampment that means the environment will be safe because there will be plumbing, there will be food," said HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton. "There will be trash. All those utilities will be provided for and people will know where to go to provide the services."

Urton said homeless shelters in San Jose are at capacity. Others including Vice Mayor Rose Herrera have their reservations. While she appreciates the councilman's passion, she is concerned about safety and financing.

"We have to be careful if we take tent cities and stick them in neighborhoods that are already stressed," said Herrera. "We don't want to create a situation where we are adding a burden to a community that's already stressed."

Nguyen will report to the city council in June about Friday's experience. He said he hopes his trip will start a conversation and research for a possible location, whether it be on private, city or county land.

Nguyen received approval from the city council for the trip. So far, he said the airfare to Portland cost $300.