Homeless service providers helped residents of a growing encampment along Highway 101 move out of the area March 18 in anticipation of a cleanup by Caltrans crews.
However, in the early morning, Caltrans notified city officials that they would be postponing the sweep at a date to be determined.
The camp, located adjacent to the southbound Highway 101 onramp at 10th Street in Gilroy, has grown in size over the past year as homeless people have been removed from various business areas in the city, according to Jan Bernstein Chargin, a founding member of PitStop Outreach, an organization that provides services to the homeless.
As of the morning of March 18, there were about 20 people living in tents at the site, which include seniors, veterans and people with disabilities, as well as those who have jobs but are unable to afford housing, Bernstein Chargin said.
On March 15, Caltrans posted a notice of unlawful camping on the property, saying residents would have to vacate the site by 9am on March 18 or risk arrest. Belongings left on the site would be destroyed in 30 days if not reclaimed, the notice reads.
Caltrans also stated concerns of vehicles parked on the property as well as a hole dug underneath eucalyptus trees, where propane tanks were being used for cooking.
Camp residents and volunteers worked March 15-16 to clean up trash at the camp and address the concerns, yet Caltrans “refused” to delay the cleanup, Bernstein Chargin said.
PitStop Outreach, Gilroy Compassion Center, Abode Services and the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing have visited the camp since March 15 to offer services, and provide bags and labels for personal belongings. Residents were advised to make “go bags” with their medications and important papers, and to pack belongings not needed immediately into bags for storage, which were transported with a U-Haul moving truck rented by PitStop Outreach, Bernstein Chargin said.
Caltrans officials told this publication that they plan on providing more information on Friday.
Service providers are questioning the timing of the cleanup, especially during inclement weather and the pandemic.
Santa Clara County has deployed outreach teams to check on the unhoused and advise them to take precautions against the cold weather expected through March 20.
The U.S. National Weather Service is predicting cold and wet weather that will result in widespread, light to moderate rainfall and gusty winds beginning on March 18.
Due to the rain and cold temperatures, the County Office of Supportive Housing is opening additional after-hours shelter beds for homeless people. It will also extend hotline hours through Friday from 6-9pm and provide additional transportation to those seeking shelter throughout the county. People should call 408.278.6420 for help or to direct someone in need of assistance.
Through Friday night, the California National Guard Armory shelter, 8490 Wren Ave. in Gilroy, will have additional beds available for people who walk in seeking shelter from the cold overnight.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and California Department of Public Health have both issued guidelines specifying the encampments of unsheltered homeless people not be disbanded during the pandemic.
“It just disperses people in the community and endangers public health,” Bernstein Chargin said, adding that breaking up encampments makes it more difficult to reach people with housing and other supportive services. “We can’t care for people if we can’t find them.”
The site, being located in a prominent part of the city, has attracted the attention of passersby, who have expressed concerns over trash and other safety hazards of the encampment.
PitStop Outreach had organized debris removal and provided a hand-washing station, and Gilroy Compassion Center had recently begun providing trash pickup services, according to Bernstein Chargin.
The residents, most of whom have roots in Gilroy, have nowhere else to go and will end up relocating to other areas of the city, she said.
“My hope is the community will pull together on the solution, not the judging part, not the finger-pointing part,” Bernstein Chargin said. “We all want the same thing. We all want to live in a community where people aren’t living on the side of the freeway. Let’s figure out how to get there together.”
Bernstein Chargin said residents are looking for work, and PitStop Outreach is in need of supplies to distribute to the homeless. To offer help, she encouraged the public to email [email protected]