by Sandy Perry
At about 9 pm on December 1, San Jose City Council voted 9 to 1 to accept a memo by Councilmembers Chappie Jones, Magdalena Carrasco, Tam Nguyen, and Don Rocha to immediately explore a pilot sanctioned encampment for the homeless somewhere on City or County property. This was an outstanding victory for the homeless and their fellow-advocates, including church, community, and housing organizations that had proposed and fought for this plan for two years. It marked a dramatic shift from the position of the old City Council majority, which gained international notoriety with its ruthless destruction of the "Jungle" encampment in December 2014.
Neat, safe, and sanitary sanctioned encampments will be a vast improvement over the filthy, dangerous illegal encampments where the homeless are forced to live now. In addition, sanctioned encampments represent a material commitment to house all the homeless, instead of only housing some and criminalizing the rest, as is done now. In fact, some housing staff members appeared to oppose the plan because it would expose the fact that the "housing opportunities" promised in the Community Plan to End Homelessness are not really expected to materialize. San Jose's homeless have endured 32 years of broken promises by politicians. The brave councilmembers promoting sanctioned encampments are a sign that this may be about to change.
But much work remains to be done. It took an ongoing mobilization, including testifying until 12:30 am at City Council on December 8, to ensure that the encampment proposal would not be blocked by problems of siting and management. And sanctioned encampments are only the beginning, not the end, of the real battle, which is for affordable housing for everyone. In fact, to be truly successful, encampments must become organizing centers for a continuing movement. The City Council's December 15 refusal to adopt a Commercial Linkage Fee study for funding affordable housing indicates how far we have to go. Only Raul Peralez, Magdalena Carrasco, Don Rocha, and Ash Kalra supported it.
Without organized political action by the homeless and all those most affected by the housing crisis, the needs of the people that built this Valley will be crushed by the corporate agenda of unlimited profits for technology companies.
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