April 4, 1992
By Yolanda Reynolds
Hammerville, a hastily constructed tent city, erected by the homeless on the front lawn of San Jose’s City Hall was ordered removed by the Mayor’s staff late Wednesday evening. City Manager Les White, along with Alex Sanchez, the City’s Housing Director, and the County’s Director of Human Relations, Jim McEntee, attempted to convince the protesting homeless men and women that “they (the homeless) had made their point, and that the City had done all that it could on their behalf and could do no more.
The appeals and issues that the Student Homeless Alliance has been attempting to convey to City Hall over the last two and a half years came to a head Wednesday night, with the arrest of a remaining 13, who did not want to leave City Hall until longer lasting, and better housing arrangements were made for the homeless and needy of the City.
The closing of the armory on March 31st brought the housing situation to a critical stage an emergency for the homeless.
On the last day that the armory would be available for the homeless, many still showed up for their last night of sleep in a relatively safe and warm place.
The armory has been serving an average of 300 to 500 people ever night since it was opened last winter. Many homeless, aware that the armory would close had already left to stake out the better hidden of the makeshift shelters throughout the City.
Wednesday at the armory’s closing time of 6a.m. the remaining homeless numbering over 80 persons, descended on City Hall to the surprise of City officials. The mayor had invited a number of media persons that evening for a reception at her office after 5 p.m
At the appearance of so many homeless at the front door of City Hall, a flurry of meetings were held in the afternoon, but these were not enough to resolve the shelter needs of the group of even one evening. The Alliance felt that the City’s response was inadequate. As the afternoon wore on, City officials “found” some beds, around 20-25 at the Salvation Army at which the homeless could stay for only three nights.
Later that evening, others were told, that evening April 2, Cecil White Center at 370 N. Montgomery would be able to accommodate 50 people for two weeks.
Just before the police came to arrest the remaining protesters at 8:30 p.m. another 15 or so people carrying their belongings with them joined the protester. They had heard that some shelter might become available.
They were successful in their quest — at least for one night. Mr. Bill Newkirk of the City’s Housing Department rented rooms at the Cozy 8 on the Alameda for them.
The Student Homeless Alliance leaders at Wednesday’s protest said that this late action demonstrated again the lack of a sincere concern for the less fortunate – it is only after it becomes embarrassing that the city reacts.
The homeless men and women and their housing advocates have been attending meetings with City and County officials in a sincere attempt to find solutions.
The Alliance leadership says that, for weeks, San Jose’s Mayor Hammer knew that Governor Wilson had announced his plans to close the armories to the homeless.
In anticipation of the closure of the armory, the Student Homeless Alliance had searched for a solution. They had been told by City officials that there were no other places in the City that were suitable for an overnight shelter.
Last Tuesday, in a last attempt for a solution, the Alliance came before the City Council with a number of suggestions. One was the vacant Gold Gym which was for sale and could likely be rented for about $8,000 per month. If that was not possible, the Alliance suggested than the City investigate the use of “vacant commercial buildings on 8th and 10th streets downtown.”
Scott Wagers, a leader of the Alliance and a person who has worked tirelessly for the less fortunate, says that the City’s first priority is big ticket items like the Fairmont, the Giants etc., rather than the needs of the City’s residents. The City is also determined to keep the homeless and poor out of the downtown.
The sad fact is, that even for the surprisingly many homeless that work, the salaries that they receive are so meager that housing 18 their ability to afford anywhere in the City.
The Alliance has repeatedly challenged the City’s priorities. They ask that the City make the plight of the homeless as high a priority as that for the proposed Sport Stadium.
The City has already spent over $1.3 million towards the construction of a stadium, even before there has been a vote of the people.
Years ago, in protest to the use of public money for the construction of the arena, the voters of San Jose collected enough voter signatures to qualify for the ballot a measure which prohibits the use of public money for construction of a sports facilities without a favorable vote of the people. This measure was approved, but so far, its intent has been ignored by the City.
For many homeless, March 31st meant that it was the last night that they could count upon a place to sleep safely in San Jose.
San Jose’s homeless people and their advocates have worked hard to find alternative shelter. Regardless of counter claims by City officials that the City is paying attention to the plight of the homeless, many people in the City are still without shelter.
The protest lasted all day and into the evening. It became a matter of wills and determination. One homeless man, Eddie Pugh, while being led away in handcuffs said. ” if being homeless is a crime, then I admit that I am guilty.”
The police were ordered by the City Manager to clear the area of protesters which they did. They were all charged with trespassing and then later, at 11 p.m., were all released.
The group has vowed to continue their protest. They point out that the cost of a bed and the free meal provided at the shelter for 500 people each evening for four months, is far less than half that already spent to promote the stadium.
Alliance member Robert Norse says, that booking costs are $128 each person and imprisonment costs are another $128. He says that it costs only $10 dollars a day per person to help the homeless at most shelters.
City officials in San Jose who make grand claims about the building program of the City cannot claim a solution to the housing need of the needy. If the economy does not improve, there will be even more homeless among us. More than mere housing is required to help the needy but it is a start for those in need.
It will take the collective will of the people of San Jose to ﬁnd solutions to this problem. Even for those who are employed, affordable housing is hard to ﬁnd in this Valley.
Though sung at a City Council meeting and later published month’s ago in this paper, Eddie Pugh’s poem lingers in our conscience, “…America… but, there was no one there – to lend a helping hand.” Can this be true?
The Student Homeless Alliance may be contacted at 448-3137. © La Oferta Newspaper.