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San José Leaders Ban Homeless Encampments Near Schools

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A yellow school bus on the road near an RV.
A school bus passes an RV on Educational Park Drive near Independence High School in San José on April 9, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

San José leaders approved new rules on Tuesday barring people experiencing homelessness from living near schools and greenlit new limits on where people in RVs can park.

While city officials say the changes are motivated by an immediate need to address the feeling of safety for students, homeless advocates say the move by the San José City Council lays the groundwork for more widespread restrictions against people living in tents, RVs and cars in the future.

“You are criminalizing the unhoused people because they don’t have a home,” Gail Osmer, a homeless advocate in San José, told the council on Tuesday. “Maybe they shouldn’t be near schools, OK? But there is no place for them to go.”

Pink and blue paint on an RV with a sign that says 'Welcome'
An RV is decorated with a ‘Welcome’ sign in East San José on April 9, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The council voted unanimously in favor of the restrictions, though for them to become official, a second reading of the rules needs to be approved at the April 23 council meeting. Officials said they would take effect 30 days after that.

Under the new local laws, the city will ban all homeless encampments within 150 feet of K-12 schools citywide by establishing “School Clearance Zones.” Officials said the rules formalize and slightly expand on a similar policy the city already has in place. City staff reports said anyone violating the rule would not be subject to any “criminal enforcement” but would be given a $0 administrative citation.

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The council’s action also gives the police and other city workers broad power to tow or remove large vehicles, such as RVs, when they are parked in areas the council designates as prohibited. But first, city officials must complete a traffic study to determine if the vehicles cause safety hazards in a given area and would need to post “no overnight parking” or “no large vehicle parking” signs before any enforcement could take place.

Officials said the city would start with a pilot program to enforce RV restrictions around three schools: KIPP San José Collegiate, which is on the campus of Independence High School; Shirakawa Elementary School; and Challenger School in Berryessa.

The rules could be expanded and enforced in more areas if the council decides and if the budget for enforcement and planning can be allocated, officials said.

A woman sweeps the sidewalk near an RV while a dog stands nearby.
Ana Lilia Guerrero, 37, takes her dog, Duke, outside the RV where she lives in East San José near Independence High School on April 9, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Ana Lilia Guerrero, 37, lives in an RV near Independence High School in East San José. She has been living in the RV for a year and a half after she lost a job cleaning homes and her apartment rent increased.

Living in an RV makes everyday necessities like cooking, cleaning and bathing harder to manage, Guerrero said in Spanish through an interpreter, and the new rules won’t make anything easier.

“We’re gonna have to scatter out, another difficulty for us to find a place to go,” Guerrero told KQED. She’s grown frustrated with city and county officials who have long talked publicly about the need to help people experiencing homelessness.

“All they do is promise us things, and they don’t come through with it,” she said.

Tuesday’s approval is several months in the making after Mayor Matt Mahan and District 5 City Councilmember Peter Ortiz highlighted concerns in August from students at public charter high school, KIPP San José Collegiate.

The students reportedly told officials they sometimes feel unsafe coming to and from school, find needles on campus, and have been verbally harassed by people living on the street near their campus.

“While we are working to build basic dignified shelters, safe parking sites and more affordable housing, (students) should not have to deal with those conditions right next to their school every day,” Mahan said to reporters on Tuesday.

Mahan said more statewide and regional coordination is needed to create enough interim and permanent housing solutions for people in need.

Homelessness increased in San José between 2015 to 2022, from just over 4,000 to 6,650. The population dipped slightly in 2023 to 6,340 — which Mahan attributes to the city’s investment in interim housing.

The city opened one safe parking site last year at the Santa Teresa VTA light rail station with space for about 45 cars and plans to open a larger site at 1300 Berryessa Road later this year, which could accommodate about 85 vehicles.

Jennifer Loving, the CEO of Destination: Home, a key public-private partnership working to end homelessness in Santa Clara County, said people experiencing homelessness are still desperately struggling in this region.

“Homelessness is a crisis for everybody in a community, but punitive approaches to managing homelessness are not effective if we’re not also making sure that we’re creating more and more places for people to go,” Loving said. “We shouldn’t make it harder for those that have been pushed into our streets to survive.”

Purple agapantha flowers in the forefront and a row of RVs lined up next to the street in the background.
A row of RVs are parked on Educational Park Drive in San José on April 9, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)


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