In a move that some are calling heartless and others are deeming a relief, Caltrans in San Jose, California, is building a "homeless wall" to prevent those without a home from returning to their encampment under the I-280 freeway.
Citizens like Laura Nunez said they have been frustrated by the encampment for a long time, and Nunez told CBS SF Bay Area that it had changed the area for the worse. A fence had been erected to prevent homeless people from using the space, but it hasn't worked as the city had hoped.
"Every time Caltrans would come out and repair it," she explained of the fence, "...as soon as they left they [the homeless] cut a hole in it and they just use that…that was their main access point to go in and out. We’ve had to live with their garbage. We’ve had to live with drug paraphernalia. The kids haven’t been able to come out to play.”
In response to the frustrated community around the encampment, Caltrans is building a rigid 8-foot-tall fence that will be much harder to circumvent. While people like Nunez are hopeful that it will give them their neighborhood back, advocates for the homeless said they think the fence misses the mark — with some even comparing it to President Donald Trump's infamous border wall.
“I think of Trump," said Jaime Foberg, founder of the homeless advocacy group In Their Shoes. "And I think how horrible it is that they would keep people out. It really does make me sad.”
Pastor Scott Wagers of Cham Deliverance Ministry told CBS, “Symbolically, I think it sends the wrong message...that a city like San Jose is kind of...positing itself against the homeless.”
Nunez has no time for those sentiments though.
"Take them to your neighborhood and you live the way we’ve been living the past few years, and then you’ll sing a different tune after that," she said to reporters.
There is a looming question though: If they cannot return to this particular encampment, where will the approximately 60 people who use the space go?
California's homeless crisis forms the heart of this story. Thousands in the state have no place to call home, but few resources are available to help them. Many are forced to exist nomadically with little support to help them get out of their difficult situation. Furthermore, they face anger when their struggle becomes too overlapped with the lives of those living around them.
While building more imposing barriers between the homeless and the rest of society gives the illusion of a solution, it does nothing to combat the issue of homelessness itself. San Jose and other cities must make plans from the root of the homeless crisis and think in the long term if they are truly going to prevent encampments like this.
They must think in humanitarian and socially conscious ways, not take their cues from the president.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Flickr user Garry Knight