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San Jose may have to spend $25 million to clean up homeless camps for permit

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(The Center Square) – The city of San Jose may have to spend $25 million to clean up the homeless encampments that are spread throughout 140 miles of waterways so they can have a mandatory stormwater permit approved.

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board rejected the city’s stormwater permit due to the homeless encampments by the waterways. The city council was told the only way it would be approved was the expensive cleanup of the encampments.

“However, given the City’s limited budgetary capacity and competing City Council priorities, providing enhanced services both along the waterways and within neighborhoods may not be feasible unless deeper reductions are made to other core City services,” a Feb. 20 memo read.

“Any effort to move unsheltered populations from the creeks will cause people to relocate into neighborhoods or commercial areas, if alternative housing or other temporary places to live cannot be provided (or offered and not accepted), exacerbating the neighborhood issues,” the memo stated.

The memo estimated a preliminary cost of $25 million to clean up the encampments.

“This state mandate confirms what we’ve known all along—the status quo on homelessness is unacceptable and unsustainable,” said San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan in an email to The Center Square. “We need faster, more cost-effective solutions for ending street homelessness, including safe sleeping sites, safe parking, and expanded shelter and treatment facilities. And when safe, dignified places are available, we need to hold individuals accountable for using them.”

Aside from facing the problem of homeless encampments, the city of San Joseis also facing an issue of homeless people living in parked RVs.The San Jose deputy Manager Omar Passons also stated in a previous meeting that businesses were complaining that those living in large vehicles had been disposing of human waste near businesses and said it was driving away customers and making it harder to renew their insurance.The city previously estimated that roughly 850 vehicles were used as residences by 1,496 people. These vehicles are often a “last resort for shelter,” but they were disrupting school operations and access to schools.Heather Hoshii, San Jose’s deputy director of transportation, stated at the same meeting that the problem was that the California vehicle code does not provide a mechanism for cities to regulate activities within or around vehicles, including living in them or disposing of human waste.Hoshii said the state vehicle code also gave cities minimal authority to tow a vehicle. Still, the city recommendations included designated spaces within the city so that oversized vehicles could park. The city is also considering creating a space for 85 oversized lived-in vehicles. The city could also designate certain streets where the homeless could park their lived-in vehicles.

The city of San Jose counted 6,266 homeless people as of 2023 with 70% of those homeless within city limits considered unsheltered.

The city stated it has been dealing with homeless encampments along creeks since the early 1990s. A 2015 city report stated “discharges of trash and human wastes from homeless encampments pose a significant water quality and public health threat” and was also prohibited under the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay Basin.

The materials were presented at the March 5 city council meeting.

The city of San Jose did not respond to email seeking comment.

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