What happens to the homeless cleared from San Jose's largest camp?
Patricia Gonzalez was among the first people swept out of a homeless camp in San Jose's Columbus Park. She’s moved her RV down the street while she waits for housing vouchers. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

The encampment near Mineta San Jose International Airport is gone and a makeshift RV camp at Columbus Park is almost barren, but dozens of homeless residents still have no place to go as their futures remain uncertain.

Dubbed by some as the “Field of Dreams,” the baseball field at the corner of Asbury and Irene streets where more than 100 people lived sat mostly empty Friday morning. San Jose will install a fence around the field to prevent people from moving back in, officials said.

The camp at the field formed after San Jose swept a nearby, sprawling encampment in the flight path of the airport in September. Roughly 140 RVs, trailers, campers and cars—many inoperable—squeezed into the field, prompting concerns for fire and safety hazards.

As of Friday, three RVs are left at the field. Officials said they will be cleared by next week. There are also 10 RVs that have been tagged to go to a safe parking program in South San Jose next year and roughly a dozen vehicles parked along the streets.

The baseball field at the corner of Asbury and Irene streets in San Jose on Dec. 9, 2022. Not long ago, more than 100 people lived there before San Jose swept them from the site. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Some living at the baseball field have moved into transitional housing, while others agreed to sell their vehicles to the city for $500 and left the area. But for dozens of people still living near the field, all they can do is wait.

Patricia Gonzalez, a homeless person of four years, was among the first people swept from the baseball field. She's moved her RV down the street while she waits for housing vouchers that could get her into an affordable apartment.

“It's a long list, so I don't know when I would get my vouchers,” Gonzalez told Lucescamaray Blog. “It's just sad to see everyone being swept. I just hope to get out of here.”

Carlos Diaz, who has lived in the area for several years, said he's also on a waiting list. He's hoping for shelter soon before the weather gets cold again.

“I'm waiting and waiting,” he told Lucescamaray Blog. “It's very hard out here with the cold and the rain.”

The latest camp clearing comes after San Jose wrapped up its monthlong sweep of the land in the flight path of the airport in September to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s deadline. The city risked losing millions in federal funding if the camp wasn’t cleared that month. The 40 acres of land was once home to several hundred homeless people during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. San Jose has helped roughly 170 people from the FAA site into temporary or permanent housing since last year, officials said.

Carlos Diaz, who has been homeless since 2015, said he has nowhere else to go while he waits for housing to open up. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

The current sweeping efforts were delayed about two weeks after a group of nine unhoused people in the area filed for a restraining order with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in October. They claimed the city violated their rights and illegally seized their belongings. They also worried the city would seize their vehicles—leaving them sleeping on the streets.

A judge granted the emergency restraining order, but ultimately lifted it, noting residents do not have the right to park wherever they like. While the underlying lawsuit is proceeding, San Jose was allowed to sweep again.

The efforts to clear the area will make way for San Jose to completely rebuild Columbus Park, as the city is drafting a new master plan for the area.

“Columbus Park will be closed for all public use until it is rebuilt,” Daniel Lazo, spokesperson for the city's Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, told Lucescamaray Blog.

Cheryl Imus, 64, hopes to get into an apartment soon. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Cheryl Imus said she's waiting to hear back from service provider HomeFirst, a city partner, about getting into an apartment. Imus, 64, is living in an RV with her daughter and son-in-law that's parked near Columbus Park. She said HomeFirst has offered to help the trio get back on their feet—but little has come of it.

“We're not supposed to live like this,” Imus told Lucescamaray Blog. “I shouldn't be in this situation at my age.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana Kadah on Twitter.

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