SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - Almost tucked out of sight in Downtown San Jose, a three-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River Park that has become city a within a city. Unhoused residents live in tents, vehicles, and shanties – sharing this space with debris, trash, waste, and fear they’ll be forced to leave.
"We always worry about whether or not we’re gonna have to be swept (out by the city). And it’s a constant concern," said homeless San Jose resident Steve Richenberg.
Mayor Sam Liccardo is proposing building high quality, dorm-like structures on an overflow parking lot currently used by the police department.
"We’ve got an opportunity build a community for our unhoused residents," said Liccardo.
The area would house up to 80 residents, at a cost of $100,000 per unit, as opposed to the market-driven $700,000 per unit for new developments.
"And within this community, to be able to form a core of stewards. Folks who will wake up every morning to help to beautify, repair, and to clean the park," the mayor said.
Liccardo explained the park has gone from attraction to eyesore over the course of two decades. This is partially due to the recent COVID-fueled increase in the homeless population.
"The people on the streets are not being tended to. Not like they used to. Because all of us that run organizations for the unhoused are not out here because of COVID," said Scott Wagers, pastor of CHAM Deliverance Ministry.
Monday, a fire allegedly started by homeless squatters, damaged a visitor’s center. Some environmentalists have said such damage can extend to wildlife.
"They should have been asking for help 28 years ago. And they never did. And now it’s spiraled out of control," said Roger Castillo, of the Salmon & Steelhead Restoration Group.
The mayor’s plan would have tiny home residents on the new site help with park caring and cleaning.
San Jose State University sociologist Dr. Scott Myers-Lipton said pay for such work should come prior to any required training the city might impose on the new residents.
"You can’t ask them to have the modules (tiny homes) and take care of it, and not get paid. They should be paid," he said.
The mayor counters all unhoused residents would be paid under the San Jose Bridge Program.
Questions remain about what to do with those unwilling to leave from their current dwellings and move into one provided by the city. some of the unhoused say any small step in the right direction is better than living in their current conditions.