San Jose is nearing the implementation of a program aimed at addressing homeless encampments

San Jose city officials have moved a step closer to approving an ordinance aimed at addressing homeless encampments near schools. During a council meeting on Tuesday, the first reading of the proposal was approved, with a second reading scheduled for next month. If passed, the ordinance will initiate a pilot program at select schools, establishing a buffer zone around these campuses to regulate encampments.

Juan Cruz, superintendent for the Franklin-McKinley School District, highlighted the safety concerns posed by encampments near schools, noting that they can obstruct sidewalks and create unsafe conditions for students and families. The proposed ordinance, developed in collaboration with students and city staff, would prohibit tents, RVs, and other dwellings within 150 feet of licensed pre-schools, day care facilities, or K-12 schools. The city would have the authority to tow vehicles and remove encampments violating the ordinance.

The pilot program would include Shirakawa, KIPP San Jose Collegiate on the Independence High School campus, and Challenger in the Berryessa neighborhood. If successful, the council may consider expanding the program citywide. However, advocates for the unhoused have raised concerns, warning that a blanket ban could discriminate against homeless individuals.

City leaders estimate that San Jose is home to 850 inhabited vehicles, and nearly 1,500 residents could be affected by the proposed policy.

Mayor Matt Mahan is advocating for ensuring students can access education without fear when going to school. He stated, “We’ve heard from a number of kids that they don’t feel safe walking to school.” He emphasized the impact of tents and RV encampments near school boundaries on student safety. Collaborating with students, particularly at KIPP Collegiate in Eastside San Jose, the mayor aims to develop a thoughtful ordinance.

Student activists stress the importance of not criminalizing the unhoused while ensuring a safe environment for students on their way to school. Incidents such as catcalling from RVs parked near KIPP and Independence high schools, as well as needles found on school picnic tables, have been reported.

An essential aspect of the proposed ordinance for students is the provision of services for the unhoused. Mayor Mahan emphasized the need for suitable locations for individuals to go when encampments are removed.

The city is working on expanding safe parking sites, alongside efforts to increase shelter space and affordable housing options.

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