May 27, 1992
By Yolanda Reynolds
Late in the afternoon of Saturday the 24th, the San Jose Police handcuffed and removed the residents of the St. Joseph’s housing that had been claimed by a number of vocal homeless as their own. Members of the Student/Homeless Alliance, an alliance of Homeless people, San Jose State University students and community advocates, had felt that at last they had found a place that would serve to house some of San Jose’s homeless residents. The City has said that if they had room they “would like a place to help more of those in need.”
To the Alliance, the abandoned rectory and “green house” behind St. Joseph’s school seemed the perfect solution, since it is already owned by the Redevelopment Agency (City of San Jose/San-Joseans) and one structure, the rectory, was designed for communal living. The rectory had been used to house the priests and the “green house” had formerly been used for “transitional housing.” Both structures are in good condition and appear to be well built – the Alliance felt that very little, if any, expense would be incurred by allowing the complex to be used for the housing of homeless people.
Many of those who were living there had, until recently, been living along the Guadalupe River, under the City’s bridges and in downtown alley’s.
Since the State closed down the Armory, the City has taken a very aggressive stance towards homeless people. Eddie Pugh a homeless advocate, and himself homeless, said that, for them the new policy reminded him of the country western song “round’em up, herd ‘em out”- a song intended to describe a roundup of cattle.
It was at the end of April, that the State ordered that the Armory be closed. When that happened, many people were literally turned out onto the streets to fend for themselves.
To protest this situation, the Alliance staged a protest at the steps of City Hall. The protest began the morning of the closure of the armory and lasted until just before midnight that day, when the police came and jailed those who refused to leave the “tent city” in front of City Hall.
In an attempt to disperse the protest, City and County ofﬁcials said that they had “found some more beds at some of the local shelters. Some beds were only available for one night but they claimed that one shelter would have 50 beds available for thirty days. The City had hurriedly negotiated with the Cecil White shelter to pay the costs of those extra beds. Before long, however, the Alliance said the number of days and available beds shrank drastically.
According to the Alliance leaders, it was not yet thirty days when some of residents at Cecil White were told that they would have to leave.
The City has given many excuses for the lack of affordable housing even though several housing task forces have been established to address the problem. The Alliance and others say that the City must build more single room occupancy (SRO) housing in downtown San Jose.
Redevelopment, the Alliance says, is supposed to help the inner city and depressed communities get rid of blight and help to develop economically stability. The Alliance says that, instead, City leaders, through Redevelopment, have brought increased hardship to those for whom Redevelopment was intended to help.
The homeless people, of whom Eddy Pugh is a leader, who moved into the vacant rectory and “green house” expected city officials to return, but were surprised at the timing when the police came late Saturday afternoon.
Some of the residents were at work and others were on errands, only to return to find that the police had left with four of their roommates. One person, Eddie Pugh, was jailed and three others were later released to the street.
At St. Joseph’s, two security companies were present to prevent anyone from entering the area – even the press.
La Oferta Review attempted to identify the City official immediateIy responsible for barricading the area and evicting the residents but was told that they would “not talk to anyone particularly the press – since they had been so instructed.”
Neither of the guards had name tags, other than shoulder emblems identifying one, a man, to be an employee of Hardisty Private Security and another, a woman. Identifying her as Pinkerson employee.
At a previous visit to the St. Joseph shelter the exterior walls were adorned with hand painted cardboard signs beating a variety of messages. One sign read “This is a Drug Free Zone,” another said, “No on Measure G.” another, “We need homes for the Homeless not Stadiums,” another “This is a Pugh Shelter.”
According to a person (living in the river bed) and who had watched the take over – the police tore up the signs before another crew of men came to board up the place.
One of the rectory residents, watching froth the river side of the chain link fence worried about his few worldly possessions now inaccessible behind the boarded doors, and windows of the rectory. He also worried about the fate of two goldﬁsh in a fish tank in the rectory.
“Lobo,” one of the residents at the rectory several days before, proudly showed La Oferta two gold ﬁsh that he had rescued from certain death. They had been abandoned when the priests moved from the rectory. He said that the water was so murky before he cleaned the ﬁsh tank that at ﬁrst no one believed him when he said that there were two ﬁsh still alive in the tank.
For Lobo and the others who lived there, the fate of those ﬁsh is worrisome. The fish in that tank share their fate of neglect – and yet gave hope that, despite prolonged neglect they had displayed a surprising tenacity for survival.
“The homeless residents had in recent days been able to draw some attention to their struggle for a sense of control of their lives.
The City had said, “if we could ﬁnd a place…,” the homeless advocated were so hopeful that the promise was sincere, that the City would respond favorably and that the abandoned rectory and green house could become an SRO, if not a homeless operated shelter.
They were so hopeful that, just Friday, the day before the eviction, homeless advocates had brought food and blankets and even some furniture, to St. Joseph’s.
Sunday, Alliance leaders were concerned that the food at St. Joseph’s will spoil rapidly because the utilities may have been disconnected – one seemed to have an answer.
The rectory and the green house were equipped with stoves, refrigerators and even a washing machine – making the eviction even harder for them to understand.
Homeless advocate, Marvin Chitman, says that the City coud accommodate the homeless and will have room for a parking lot. The City says that the entire lot is needed for the soon to be completed (1993) arena.
Chitman says that the rectory and the “green house” that the homeless need is a the rear of the property and does not occupy that much of the total space available. The City officials initially said that only 13 people could stay there but the rectory quarters are commodious and probably a maximum of three or four men could have shared a room. Of course, they say the ideal situation would be one person to a room.
Sunday, at 1 p.m., a group of housing advocates joined the Student/Homeless Alliance to protest the City’s actions. They say that they will not rest until the City takes the needs of the homeless and the needy of the City seriously. They challenge the City’s priorities.
The European American Study Group, hearing of the actions of the City, issued this statement, “we want to speak out about this barbaric policy of the Susan Hammer administration – Susan Hammer ran for office on a platform of – housing, housing, housing but all we see are evictions, evictions, evictions.” The Study Group added, “we call on Susan Hammer to meet with these citizens, tomorrow (Monday) holiday or not – to reverse this inhumane action by her officials.”
The plight of the less fortunate is becoming more and more harsh and many who are now in homes are beginning to recognize that others are at risk of homelessness. The economy is the worst it has been since the ‘30’s. There is one major difference from those days, the fact, that for some – a small minority, times have never been better. That minority finds itself in possession of most of the nation’s wealth.
They and their supporters (many of whom hold public office) seem unable or unwilling to chart a course for economic and social justice for the people of our nation.
If you share concern for homeless people in San Jose and support the efforts of those working on their behalf contact the Student Homeless Alliance at 448-3137.