© Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
San Jose police and city officials hand out notices warning residents of the homeless encampment known as the Jungle that they must vacate the premises. The city has spent $4 million over 18 months to relocate some of the inhabitants.
Veiled by the yellow willows and brush along a forgotten creek bed in San Jose, hundreds of people jerry-built a treehouse and constructed underground bunkers and ramshackle lean-tos to form one of the nation's largest homeless encampments.
The 68-acre shantytown is just minutes away from downtown and the high-tech giants that made Silicon Valley one of the world's most opulent locations. For years, the city turned a blind eye to "the Jungle." But the camp along the muddy bank of Coyote Creek has become more crowded in recent years and is awash in rotting trash, rats and human waste - so bad that the endangered steelhead trout have essentially disappeared.
After years of halfhearted cleanups, city officials on Thursday plan to begin shutting down the Jungle for good.
The sprawling camp has become a major embarrassment, and a potent emblem of Silicon Valley's homeless crisis. In 2013, San Jose and the surrounding Santa Clara County estimated almost 7,600 homeless people, more than in San Francisco. And 75% of them were sleeping outside, on sidewalks, in parks and under freeway embankments - a percentage greater than in any other major U.S. metropolitan area.
Officials have blamed soaring housing costs for the displacement. As Silicon Valley rocketed out of the recession, workers streamed in, driving the average apartment rent within 10 miles of San Jose up to $2,633 in September, from $1,761 two years earlier, according to the rental website RentJungle.com.
The median home price is nearly $700,000.
"It's a perfect storm of extreme wealth, a booming tech community and people priced out of the market," said Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination Home, a public-private partnership to end homelessness in the county.