During the COVID-19 pandemic, the City suspended abatements (also known as sweeps or removals) of homeless encampments, in accordance with CDC guidelines. As we emerge from the pandemic, the City Council is strategically thinking about how to resume abatement in a proactive and smart way.
Councilmember Mahan's vision for post-pandemic encampment abatement was passed as the number one priority for the City implement in the 2021-2022 fiscal year. You can read more on his proposal here, which outlines certain key areas where we must abate encampments, and other areas where we should provide services such as trash pickup.
The unfortunate and challenging truth is that encampments will continue to exist in our neighborhoods until the City and County devote much more resources to build homeless shelters. There are over 6,000 people sleeping on the streets in San Jose each night, and only 2,000 shelter beds available. Addressing this inadequacy is a large priority for our office. In fact, Councilmember Mahan's first memo, approved by City Council in January 2021, involved conducting geographical analyses of vacant CalTrans sites to build homeless shelters.
Because of this lack of shelter, abatements are an imperfect solution. There is essentially nowhere for the encampment residents to go – they often either return to the same site a week later or populate another neighborhood. Fiscally, it is irresponsible to continue endlessly shifting people around from neighborhood to neighborhood. As Councilmember Mahan conveyed in his proposal to the City Council, abatements do make sense in certain situations – when there is an extreme public safety risk, or when they occupy sensitive public space – and we must conduct them strategically.
In May 2021, the City Council approved a pilot of Councilmember Mahan's proposal, beginning to abate encampments within 150 feet of schools. The City Council is expected to re-assess post-COVID encampment abatement procedures in September. Our office hopes to see the criteria expand beyond just schools to include other public spaces such as parks and creeks.
If you reach out to our office with an encampment concern, we will of course be your advocate and work with City staff to address the encampment to the best of our ability. If you notice any immediate illegal activity occurring at an encampment, please call 911. The more calls that an area receives, the more attention that SJPD will devote to it.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to our office at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, concerns, or ideas. We would love to hear from you and help to find solutions.