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San José, one step closer to prohibiting homeless people from camping near schools

San José, one step closer to prohibiting homeless people from camping near schools
Policymakers in the Bay Area's largest city agreed Tuesday to ban homeless people from camping near schools, despite pleas from advocates and concerns from the City Council about how to do it.

By Brandon Pho. San Jose Spotlight.

Policymakers in the Bay Area's largest city agreed Tuesday to ban homeless people from camping near schools, despite pleas from advocates and concerns from the City Council about how to do it.

City councilors voted unanimously to draft a policy allowing police to tow vehicles parked within 150 feet of K-12 campuses, even as city administrators question how they will implement the new law. City officials warned that the policy could require enormous resources to enforce and conflict with the state vehicle code. Council members responded by ordering city leaders to pressure Sacramento to change state law, another waste of limited city resources.

Under the direction of the council, the city will also prepare an ordinance that will prohibit the circulation of oversized vehicles on public roads considered dangerous according to an engineering study. City officials were ordered to draft a separate policy for towing vehicles from streets where overnight parking is prohibited.

Council members, led by Mayor Matt Mahan, said the city's policies have no teeth and only allow authorities to impose fines.

“San Jose has taken on far more than our share of large vehicles from Santa Clara County,” Mahan said at the meeting. He added that other communities, especially wealthier ones like Saratoga, have much stricter bans on books. “If we stand alone and don’t enforce the law, we will be the only place in the county that will have all the RVs.”

The discussion comes after six months of debate and intense public pressure to find solutions to the city's homeless crisis.

While students and parents say they have been threatened, stepped on needles and feel unsafe walking to school, homeless advocates warn that a blanket ban criminalizes homelessness and piles more costs on people who are already displaced. City officials have identified Independence High School, Shirakawa Elementary School and Challenger School – Berryessa as the three most affected school campuses.

Dozens of speakers lined up for and against the proposed bans. Dozens of students at KIPP San Jose Collegiate Charter High School said the camps make walking to school terrifying. Homeless advocates, on the other hand, accused politicians like Mahan of stoking fear to fuel a narrative linking homelessness to crime.

San Jose resident Debra Townley said she lived in her vehicle with a child.

“My son was in school at the time and I needed to park near the schools so I could take him to school,” Townley said at the meeting. “I find it very disturbing that we are going to ban a whole class of people who are trying to survive.”

Sophia Le, a KIPP sophomore, said homeless residents have wreaked havoc on her school.

“We are just kids in San José trying to have the best school experience. How is this going to be possible when my school has to constantly make repairs every time a member of the RV community trespasses on campus?” He told him at the meeting.

Mahan responded that keeping RVs more than 100 feet away from schools does not criminalize them. Reducing street homelessness — or at least the appearance of people sleeping rough in Silicon Valley — has been a cornerstone of the mayor's political platform as he seeks re-election in March.

All councilors, except Dev Davis, who was absent, seemed to agree.

Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei acknowledged that the people of Silicon Valley are fighting to survive. Fueled by the global tech industry, San Jose consistently ranks as the most expensive place to rent in the US and pay monthly bills.

“We all deserve to be safe and there is no one on this stand who disagrees with that,” Kamei said.

When councilors begin budget talks this spring, they will consider a broader policy to ban recreational vehicles in more parts of the city. Other ideas that emerged in a city report Tuesday included convincing private property owners to allow RV parking and having the city purchase RVs from homeless people in an effort to help them afford an apartment.

City leaders estimate that San Jose is home to 850 inhabited vehicles and up to 1,500 residents could be affected by the policy. In its most recent homeless count, San Jose counted more than 6,500 homeless people in 2022.

Councilman Bien Doan, who was once homeless, took issue with the long-term RV strategies proposed by city leaders, namely keeping RVs only in industrial areas. He said pushing homeless people to the outskirts of San Jose taints poorer neighborhoods.

“I feel like this whole thing took me by surprise,” Doan said, adding that policies like the RV ban would “harm and harm (his) district.”

You may be interested in: Should violent acts against homeless people be considered hate crimes?

Peninsula 360 Press
Peninsula 360 Presshttps://peninsula360press.com
Study of cross-cultural digital communication

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