May 16, 1992
By Yolanda Reynolds
Last Wednesday morning, at the now closed St. Joseph Gramma School on Park Avenue, a Redevelopment Agency Negotiations Technician, Paul Boggini, came by to witness the ouster of four homeless men who had been living in the now vacant “Green House” on the school grounds. The house painted green and named “The Green House” is located next to the rectory both of which are behind the red brick SL Joseph school building.
St. Joseph’s Grammar School in San Jose became history when the Redevelopment Agency concluded negotiations for the purchase of that property in December of last year. In April of this year the remaining 5 priests moved out of the rectory to their new quarters at 80 South Market.
The Green House had been used as “transitional” housing for homeless men San Joseans, Eddie Pugh, Larry Miller, Walter Stevenson and Christopher Thompson all African Americans recently moved into the Green House, preferring to live there than in the nearby creek bed.
The new residents have kept the Green House in meticulous condition. The Agency ofﬁcials have attempted to oust them and. in fact, summoned three ofﬁcers to remove the men if necessary.
Mr. Pugh persuasively argued against their ouster. He advised the officers and Mr. Boggini that they “were not trespassing” since Redevelopment was the owner- the people of San Jose are therefore the owners of that building. Pugh argued that, in light of that fact, he and his companions could not be charged with “trespassin” because they, as San Joseans, are also owners of the property.
Pugh also pointed out that an arrest of himself and his roommates would be far more costly than if the City were to leave them there for one more month. He said that the “cost of holding a person at Elmwood runs about $120 per day.” He says that “four people held in jail for a month (the length of time sentenced for trespassing) would cost the taxpayers roughly $14,000 instead of $0.” He added, “it makes more sense to leave us alone and save the taxpayers some money.”
After two hours of waiting by the three courteous San Jose officers, Raul, Layne and Christiansen, the Green House residents were told that “the City attorney had informed the police and Agency representative that Pugh, Miller, Thompson and Stevenson could not be evicted without first being served with an eviction notice. They were also advised that the City (police) would be enforcing the eviction notice three days after it was presented.
Pugh and his roommates have been living in the Green House for “several weeks.” The Green House is a well-constructed stucco dwelling, like so many in the central part of San Jose. Except for the roar of the low ﬂying aircraft descending to land at the San Jose International Airport, the surroundings of their home is pleasant. The front door of their home faces the lush greenery and tall trees that line the banks of the Guadalupe River.
Pugh and his mates were careful with the property and even provided their own lock fora gate near the river that had been left unlocked. They locked the gate in order to deter the potential of vandalism at the nearby large vacant rectory. The rectory has numerous bedrooms, each with its own wash basin, and two bath rooms, designed with clustered but private shower stalls and toilets. It has a very large kitchen and dining area as well as a common that is partially lined with books that were left behind.
Larry and Walter say that they are “work ready” and hope to find work soon. Both are young, articulate and attractive. Walter Stevens is an Army veteran. He came to Fort Ord, California with the military years ago. He had a full-time job until three months ago when he was laid off from his job in maintenance at a local company. Xidex. His job disappeared when Xidex swallowed another company, Anamop – a company where he had been employed for three years.
Stevenson says that he wants to return to work as a medic – work he was trained for in the military, but he says that he now needs more training in order to be current in that profession. He explained that without some permanency in his life he cannot attend classes and study. Stevenson displayed an admirable gentility and calmness in spite of the harshness of the situation in which he now ﬁnds himself.
One of the residents, Christopher Thompson, works full time, but his salary is so low that he cannot afford housing in San Jose. He left to go to work before the police came. It must have been hard for him to be at work and wonder what might have happened in his absence and wonder when his few remaining possessions would end up, if he and his roommates were forced to leave that day.
The Agency, though aware that there were people in the “Green House,” had all of its windows boarded up the day before, thereby cutting off light and air into the house. Pugh was concerned that the agency’s action made the Green House dangerous for them by closing up any exit except a door in the event of a ﬁre. He believes that they should not board the building up until the people are out of there. Pugh says that he and his roommates are not trying to take over the site.
Stevenson, Pugh and Miller say that unless all of the people in the community become involved in the political process, more and more working people will be homeless and many more people will become unemployed and homeless as well. If all citizens would become properly informed and vote carefully they feel that a difference would be made.
Eddie Pugh, himself homeless says that he has chosen at this time to make his work “advocacy for the homeless.” He says that he must be an advocate for those less fortunate because he “could not bear in (his) heart the knowledge that (he) had abandoned those in need.”
Pugh says that San Jose City leaders need to pay attention to all of its citizens, not just the Lurie’s Swig’s, De Napoli’s, McEnery’s and Wolfe’s.
Pugh is hoping that, when the old school is torn down the city or contractor will consider employing or allowing the homeless that live nearby, the opportunity to clean the bricks which will remain from the demolition.
Used bricks are more valuable than today’s unused brick. The bricks have a beautiful color and are ﬁred higher than is customary today. Clean used bricks sell for .48 cents each. Pugh estimates that there are at least a million bricks to be had in the old school building.
Pugh says cleaning the bricks would help some people earn some money as well reduce waste by recycling the bricks.
The problem of housing for the homeless in San Jose has become very severe because the armory is now closed to them. The City is now also aggressively pursuing those homeless who have retreated to the stream and river beds for shelter.
At the end of April, following the closure of the armory, the Student/Homeless Alliance dramatized the plight of the homeless with a demonstration in front of City Hall. There the confrontation went on until almost midnight. The Alliance had set up an encampment for the homeless at the doorsteps of City Hall since the homeless had no other place to go for shelter.
As a consequence of that demonstration Mayor Hammer, through city spokespersons, indicated that the city l had made beds available at a number of locations throughout the City. ln the City’s eagerness to reduce the image of a heartless city, some of those displaced by the armory’s closing were even put up for one night at a hotel located on the Alameda.
Some homeless advocates, fearing that the promises would not be kept instead remained at the encampment until the police arrested them and took them to jail where they were all booked and later released shortly after midnight.
Reportedly, those jailed were each handed a bill of $1,000 for their stay at the jail that night, after which they were released back out onto the streets. Their fears were justified because the numbers of beds promised have already dwindled from 50 to 20 as have the number of nights allowed for their use.
Pugh and many of the advocates for homeless people do not understand why the City says that it “does not have money” to help those desperately in need of housing while it still can manage to ﬁnd the money to spend over a million dollars to study the possibility of attracting a baseball team to San Jose.
Further, many citizens, in particular, community activists are incensed that the Mayor and other city leaders can devote so much energy and resources to try to convince the people of San Jose, including the business community that they should tax themselves to build a stadium for another multi-millionaire front San Francisco.
The City’s General Fund (which pays for police, ﬁre fighters, libraries, parks and recreation) is facing serious budget cutbacks amounting to $28 million.
Mayor Hammer recently announced that she was going to “keep her promise” and hire more police officers. Even though Mayor Hammer says that she is adding more police than that suggested by the City Manager – according to Police administration testimony at a Council hearing early on in the budget process – the actual number of new police on the street will be determined by the ability of the training system to train those new officers to reach the streets than the number provided by the Manager’s budget proposal.
Advocates for change in the City’s, the State’s and the Nation’s priorities have joined together to plan many activities intended to draw attention to the many needs of the community, including education.
One group. Campaign for Survival, can be contacted by calling 266-2799. The Student/Homeless Alliance, a strong advocate for the homeless can reached by calling 335-7039. © La Oferta Newspaper.