SAN JOSE (KCBS) — While Silicon Valley is known for its high tech entrepreneurs who are making millions of dollars, the latest numbers show that the homeless population in San Jose has grown by about 20 percent since 2011. That increase is visibly evident in an area known as “The Jungle”—arguably the largest homeless encampment in the nation.
Walking though the Jungle, which spreads across almost 70 acres, is quite an experience. It stretches about one and half miles starting at the San Jose Flea Market running along Story Road on the banks of Coyote Creek and the Guadalupe River.
COMPLETE KCBS COVER STORY SERIES: “The Jungle”
San Jose city officials estimate that there are about 1,200 people living there.
“Image what the jungle would be like. Actually this is a real life jungle; we don’t have the animals—some of the people are animals, “ laughs Toya, who didn’t want to give her full name.
She said she has been living here for about a year with her pit bulls, Diogo and Solo. The dogs are not allowed at homeless shelters and that is one of the reasons, Toya stays here.
“My typical day consists of—honestly my coffee is having a beer in the morning,” Toya said. “I usually do my recycling the night before. Sometimes depending on how it is there—if there is a lot of police out—I wait until the morning like I did today. I’ll go recycle from 7 about to about 9 o’clock.”
There many people here pushing loaded shopping carts and Marty Grimes, spokesman for the Santa Clara Valley Water District said the amount of trash is a growing concern.
“The illegal encampments and creeks can cause a lot of problems to water quality. It can cause erosion which can contribute to flooding,” he said. “The contamination of the water is really detrimental to the natural environment—to the animals and plants out there.”
People living within the Jungle’s thick vegetation have also sparked a number of fires. San Jose fire Capt. Cleo Doss said that amid the drought, it becomes an even greater concern.
“Open flames, cigarette smoking, ATVs, camping—any type of stuff that’s going down in where there is a lot of thick vegetation, it can cause a problem,” he said.
The rising population of the Jungle has not gone unnoticed at City Hall.
“As we have cleaned up other encampments, which we done dozens of other cleanups, a lot of people have moved into that area,” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said.
Tomorrow, in this Special KCBS Cover Story series, reporter Mike Colgan will take a closer look at some of the steps the city is taking to address the problem.