Gardening Around the Homeless

tree aloe and prickly pear cactus on Guadalupe River San Jose, June 2016

We found that there is a camp of homeless down at the edge of the Guadalupe River on our back property line. Last week, one of them came along the top of the bank carrying a lawn chair when I was pulling weeds nearby. He ignored me and walked down the bank to his waterside tent. This camp is of great concern because the water level can rise quickly and it is very dangerous for them to be so close to the waterline of a deep and fast river.

This weekend, we went down the bank to check out the (uninhabited) camp. We found that they had been digging into the embankment – not good for the structural integrity of an earthwork that keeps hundreds of homes dry – and had built a home with a brick walk, an outhouse over the river, a portable TV with battery, plus lots of bicycles, chairs, and stuff. Our neighbor recognized some of the stuff as having been taken from his property. The homeless have been getting in and out by creating a new trail along the waterline. If they walked on the top of the bank, either we or our dogs would see them.

We and our neighbors have been alternating calling the San Jose Homeless Abatement Metro Unit (which is in charge of illegal homeless camps) and “911” (which is in charge of dangerous homeless behavior and stealing by homeless) every few days for several weeks. We talked with the water company about the damage to the embankment. The police came out twice last month but no one was in the camp so they didn’t do anything. They haven’t come out lately that we know of. The Metro Unit is supposed to “tag” a camp, move them out after 3 days, then clean up the camps once a month. No action yet.

Since we had some tree and dracena trimming to do anyway, we dumped the brush onto the new riverside path in the hope of discouraging foot traffic. After this, I am going to drop all of my prickly pear cactus trimmings down the bank rather than putting them out for the weekly yard waste pickup. I feel badly that these people are homeless but I don’t want them drowning in their sleep or stealing things to furnish their home.

6/9/2016 Update: San Jose has evolved its way of managing the homeless.  The current City of San Jose webpage is called Ending Homelessness which offers a Homeless Helpline (at 408.510.7600) to express concerns for homeless persons or encampments.  Current photos of my prickly barrier:

prickly pear cactus and agave on Guadalupe River San Jose, June 2016

cactus on Guadalupe River San Jose, June 2016

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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