The San Jose council is reviewing a proposal to maintain a greater distance between homeless camps and schools

City leaders in San Jose are expected to discuss various options related to a proposed ordinance co-authored by students, aimed at addressing the issue of homeless encampments near schools. In August, students, along with city staff and the backing of some council members, put forward an ordinance suggesting a ban on encampments and vehicle dwellings within 150 feet of licensed preschools, day care facilities, or K-12 schools.

During Tuesday’s San Jose City Council meeting, several potential courses of action were presented, including the consideration of a draft ordinance, implementing a pilot program, conducting further studies on the matter, or postponing the proposal until the March budget meetings for the next fiscal year, as indicated in the council agenda.

Mayor Matt Mahan is a strong advocate for such an ordinance, aligning with his efforts to address the homelessness problem in the largest city in the Bay Area. In August, he expressed full support for the ordinance, citing the students’ concerns about homeless individuals sleeping on school grounds and in school bathrooms, as well as finding needles on their lunch tables.

Collaborating with students, council members and the mayor have introduced a pilot program centered around three schools—KIPP, Shirakawa, and Challenger. The proposed ordinance establishes a 150-foot buffer zone between schools and tents or RVs for the unhoused.

Mayor Mahan emphasized the importance of prioritizing students’ well-being, stating, “Students should not suffer due to the government’s inability to act urgently in addressing street homelessness.”

The ordinance, in its current form, empowers the city to tow RVs and enhances the enforcement of an existing policy prohibiting encampments in school zones, avoiding the creation of redundant city codes.

While student activists express their reluctance to criminalize homelessness, they assert that the fear experienced while walking to school must be addressed. Reports have surfaced regarding catcalls from RVs parked near KIPP and Independence High Schools, as well as instances of needles found on school picnic tables. One student even felt compelled to arm herself during her walk to school.

Alfredo Hernandez, a senior at KIPP San Jose Collegiate, commented on the severity of the conditions, stating, “That’s how bad the conditions have gotten, and the students need to resort to something that makes them feel safe. They shouldn’t resort to mace or pepper spray to come to school.”

Scheduled to be implemented in the spring, the ordinance also aims to address homelessness through measures such as providing housing and other services.

In addition, Mayor Mahan recently advocated for increased funding to address the clearance of encampments along the Guadalupe River and its creek trail. He emphasized the challenge of building public trust and garnering support from taxpayers and other government agencies in California when public areas are not kept clean, clear, and accessible.

As of Tuesday, no vote was anticipated on the school-related issue.

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