SAN JOSE, Calif. – Police and social-workers on Thursday began clearing away one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments, a cluster of flimsy tents and plywood shelters that once housed more than 200 people in the heart of California’s wealthy Silicon Valley.
Authorities have been trying for years to resolve problems at the camp known as the Jungle, including violence and unsanitary conditions.
By Thursday morning, about 60 people were left at the muddy, garbage-strewn site where crews started dismantling the crude structures.
On Monday, people living in the camp were given until Thursday to leave or face arrest for trespassing.
Nancy Ortega sobbed as she watched tractors load garbage into trash trucks. Then a passing motorist shouted at those who had just been evicted.
“People drive by and look at us like we’re circus animals,” she said.
A few dozen protesters gathered at the site holding signs reading “Homeless people matter” and “Stand with The Jungle.” No arrests were reported.
The encampment stands in stark contrast to the surrounding valley, a region that leads the country in job growth, income and venture capital.
With the camp cleared, officials planned to try to find shelter for the night for people connected with social services.
Anyone not linked with social services will still have to leave, San Jose homelessness response manager Ray Bramson said.
Several homeless-assistance groups also stepped in to help.
HomeFirst, the largest provider to homeless people in the county, has a shelter nearby with 250 beds, including 27 that are set aside for camp residents. Another 50 beds are open in a nearby cold-weather shelter.
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In the past year and a half, San Jose has spent more than $4 million to solve problems at the encampment.
In the last month, one camp resident tried to strangle someone with a cord of wire. Another was nearly beaten to death with a hammer. And state water regulators have been demanding that polluted Coyote Creek, which cuts through the middle of the camp, get cleaned out, Bramson said.
Personal property confiscated Thursday was to be stored for 90 days before being disposed of in March.
The last time officials cleared out the camp was in May 2012, when about 150 people were moved out.
Dismantling the Jungle is a massive job. About 30 contractors in white hazardous-materials suits and hard hats joined other workers in going through the camp and helping people move out. More than two dozen police officers were on hand as workers loaded trash into large trucks.
It will take several days for trash trucks and bulldozers to haul out vast amounts of refuse and human waste. Heavy machinery will be used to fill in excavated areas where people had been living underground.