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San Jose Looks At Ending Cycle Of Homeless Sweeps; Establishing 'Humanitarian Zones' At Some Sites

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – Leaders in San Jose are discussing a new plan to end homeless sweeps. Instead of constantly putting unhoused people on the move, some camps would be reclassified as so-called "humanitarian zones" and go off limits for months or even longer.

"They think that they're so smart, that the move us away from here, and then they see us again and then they do it again. It's a never ending circle," said Theresa Wilson, who has been living unhoused in San Jose for six years.

Wilson said she's been swept more times than she can remember -- usually about once a month -- and never moves far.

"We think it's mean. It hurts your heart.  It hurts that that they keep moving you around and, like, they don't want you here. You're unwanted. It makes you feel like an unwanted child," Wilson said.

The proposal to end the sweeps for certain encampments in San Jose is part of a larger effort by the City Council to improve conditions for unhoused people living in camps.

"The city doesn't want to call it sanctioned encampments, but they want to call it humanitarian zones. It affords the person the ability to focus on getting out of being homeless," said R.J. Ramsey, who was once unhoused and now lives in a low-income housing development.

"It's very difficult to move yourself out of homelessness if you're constantly being moved around in a circle," Ramsey said.

The San Jose City Council could formalize the hands-off approach to some encampments which meet certain criteria such as not being near a school, not blocking streets or sidewalks and not being in a waterway. The city would also include hygiene and supportive services.

It's already doing some of that by paying unhoused people to pick up trash in their encampments, and by providing porta-potties and wash stations.

Mayor Sam Liccardo is against the idea of sanctioned encampments and said he will only support the hands off approach to sweeps for clearly defined limited periods.

"We're going to support and provide services, but we can't be giving legal entitlements to people to be living outside," Liccardo said.

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