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Growing Stretch Of Homeless Camps In Silicon Valley Visible from Space

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- A mile-long stretch of homeless people living in tents and their attendant trash in Santa Clara County has grown so large, the encampments are visible by satellite.

Locals say the problem is only getting worse and is actually driving some residents to relocate.

Caltrans and PG&E both say they are well aware of the growing homeless encampments that run along a frontage road adjacent to I-680 southbound between Berryessa and McKee Roads in east San Jose.

For more than a year, the number of tents have steadily grown, becoming an eyesore for drivers coming down into the South Bay from the Sunol Grade.

With the encampments now numbering more than two dozen sites, debris is piling up and spilling into Penitencia Creek. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is investigating to see if the encampments fall within their jurisdiction.

The makeshift homes of blue tarps, pallets and tents have elaborate setups. Some have dining areas with wooden chairs and tables or even areas for bicycle maintenance.

The complexity of the encampments suggest they have been there for months.

The Mercury News published a column Thursday with the headline "Welcome to Garbage Valley."

The homeless access the sites from residential streets within the city of San Jose, via Berryessa Road, Mabury Road, and McKee Road. They travel on bicycle, foot or even by electric scooter.

They head towards a mix of Caltrans and PG&E property. The set-ups can be found along the 1.4 mile stretch of gravel road between Berryessa and McKee Roads, on the western side of 680 southbound.

Most of the PG&E fencing has been cut away to provide access to the area.

"Homelessness isn't just a Caltrans issue. It's a societal issue," said Caltrans spokesperson Bart Ney.

On Thursday, Ney said the agency mobilized crews within the so-called "hot spot" program who will clear out vegetation, and install iron fencing in the area.

Earlier this year, Caltrans announced the donation of the use of their property near freeways in a pilot program for homeless navigation centers.

Thursday, Ney announced new "innovations" to help the homeless.

"We're going beyond that now with a new program where we're actually offering jobs. Employment positions to the homeless that can make it through their local service program," said Ney. "And we will help guide them into state service if they want to take a job with Caltrans. The idea is that at Caltrans, we're bridge builders. And we want to help them bridge into the next stage of their lives."

Caltrans has committed to 10 jobs for the homeless in Oakland, 20 in San Francisco. Details for San Jose are still in the works.

As for PG&E, a spokesperson told KPIX 5, homelessness is a "complex issue," and that the utility is working with local governments and agencies to address the issue along 680 in East San Jose.

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