SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Crews on Thursday started the final cleanup at one of the Bay Area's most prominent homeless encampments in the South Bay.
The encampment is situated on 55 acres of vacant land in North San Jose owned by Apple.
Green flyers had been posted notifying people living at the encampment that the closure of the site would begin September 2 at 7 a.m. The flyers warned that any remaining materials would be removed. Valuables would stored for 90 days, and the rest will be hauled off to the landfill.
Crews worked for much of the day, using bulldozers to scrape the debris into large dumpster bins, stirring up noxious dust clouds that reeked of human waste and raw sewage.
On August 13, Apple had announced a partnership with HomeFirst, stating the company would provide the non-profit with "several million dollars" in funding to clean up the site and offer housing to the more than 60 people at the encampment.
The inhabitants were offered three options for interim housing: a motel room, an emergency shelter bed or a safe parking space. Apple would cover the cost of the housing for nine months and case management for 12 months.
HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton described Apple's offer as "generous," and pointed to recent large donations from local tech giants. Google and Facebook have donated $1 billion, and Apple has pledged $2.5 billion to help build affordable housing and fund homeless initiatives.
"I don't think corporate America is doing enough. I think there are good people in corporate America. I come across many of them every every day. And yet, I think the companies could be leaning in more to be part of the solution. And that means providing resources, financial resources, whether it's land, whether it's working with developers to build affordable housing for their employees. Whatever it is, they need to be part of the solution with the city and county," said Urton.
She noted that funding is needed from the private sector because local government agencies are stretched too thin when it comes to budgets.
"The city and county are doing everything they feasibly can right now, and have been for the past two years. They're under-resourced and they're tired, just like we all are. So by having large companies step in and provide the resources that nonprofits need to be part of the solution, we can actually effectively end homelessness together," said Urton.
HomeFirst outreach teams had offered housing to Robert Carlson, who has been at the site for several months. But with several large vehicles, including an RV, Carlson has turned down the housing, opting to go off on his own.
"It's all part of life, ain't it? Trials and tribulations, man," said Carlson. "Well, we were all a big family here. We were a big family. I miss everybody already."
Deborah Kempkoble, who has also lived at the site for several months, accepted the offer for a motel room on Monterey Highway, saying her story "might have a happy ending".
"They're gonna help me get teeth. Because I don't have any, you know? They're gonna help me get teeth," said Kempkoble. "It's easier to get a job when you have teeth."
New construction of a 7-foot black metal fence now surrounds part of the property, which is guarded by a sizable contingent of Apple's private security guards.
Regarding Thursday's cleanup efforts, Apple referred to a previous statement released in August:
"Apple has long been focused on helping to combat the housing crisis across California and working with partners to support at-risk communities and provide new affordable units. As the challenges for renters and potential home owners continue to increase, we've accelerated our support and have already deployed over $1 billion for new projects since the start of 2020. In San Jose, we have been closely coordinating with local partners for several months to identify housing alternatives and support for families who will be transitioning away from the Component Drive site. We are contracting with HomeFirst — a leading local provider of services, shelter and housing — to put resources directly in place to ensure individuals currently on that site will have access to a range of housing options, casework resources, and other supportive services during this process."
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