By Len Ramirez

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — San Jose’s Little Italy neighborhood is the latest community to run into problems from the combination of COVID and nearby homeless camps.

“People see that and then turn around and go back in their car. We don’t want that,” said Pino Spatola, the owner of Paisano Restaurant.

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Spatola says aggressive people who live in the camps near his Paisano restaurant have also threatened his workers.

“Outside they started chasing one of my employees. They started banging on her car,” Spatola said.

The restaurant is one of the mainstays of San Jose’s Little Italy, a two-block community of historic Italian American homes and businesses near the SAP Center. It’s also next to the Guadalupe River Park, which has many encampments and a large population living on the riverbanks.

Squatters have set fires to vacant homes in the neighborhood, and neighbors say there are off-and-on break-ins and thefts.

It’s too much for an Italian language school for kids. The owner posted a message on Facebook saying the combination
of COVID and the homeless problem is “a nightmare.”

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The school is now permanently locked up.

“The school, having a safe environment is very important,” said Joshua Devincenzi, the president of Little Italy San Jose. “We’re obviously saddened because they were our first business here in Little Italy.”

He said the loss of the school, plus the neighborhood’s coffee house have been recent setbacks but the community is still moving forward.

Police patrols have been stepped up, a heritage museum is coming, and Google is helping The Poor House Bistro relocate to
the vacant space next to Henry’s Hi Life restaurant.

“We’re not done as a district. We’re still here, we’re still open for business,” Devincenzi said.

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“My business is doing very well,” said Mr. Spatola, who plans to stay in the neighborhood and help Little Italy grow.