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The last inhabitants of San Jose’s former ‘Jungle’ encampment – San José Spotlight

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When Jose Pantín surveys the area of land formerly known as the Jungle—a wide embankment off of Story and Senter roads next to Coyote Creek—he finds it hard to picture a park in its place.

The 70-year-old man moved to the former site of the Jungle about five years ago after living in the streets for years. He said the encampment can feel like a “small town” because of the friendships formed by the people living there despite cultural differences.

“The only thing I don’t like about living in the Jungle: They move us a lot,” Pantín told San José Spotlight, referring to the sweeps and cleanups that San Jose often conducts along Coyote Creek.

Such evacuations are likely to become more frequent as the city considers converting what was once the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. into a city park.

The city of San Jose posted a notice of a cleanup conducted on Feb. 20. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

A coalition of environmetal advocates is seeking to push forward the park plan for the former Jungle site. But the process could take anywhere from eight to 10  years, according to Alie Victorine, a volunteer with the group, called Coyote Meadows Coalition. San Jose is also considering leasing the city-owned land to an unknown private company, according to San Jose Economic Development Director Nanci Klein.

As they push the plan, Victorine is hopeful that local governments and organizations can find housing for all those occupying the creek bed. On Friday, fewer than 10 people remained at the site.

“We’re very concerned that they’re there, not only for the safety and living conditions of the humans, but also for the environmental impact that’s happening on the creek because of humans doing encampments, and illegal encampments, along there,” Victorine told San José Spotlight. “If we were trying to make the park today, I think we would be remiss if we weren’t talking to the people that are living along the creek.”

Though the land is currently undeveloped, it was previously used as a brick yard and then as a landfill, Victorine said.

“It has not been used for decades in a concentrated effort. It is now currently undeveloped,” Victorine said. “Is it currently ‘vacant’? No, there are people living there… And it probably is one of those terms that we can look at.”

A resident of the former Jungle site has constructed a dwelling directly next to Coyote Creek. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

On Friday afternoon, many people at the former Jungle site were hesitant to share their feelings about the proposed park. Much of the area was relatively empty, likely because San Jose had conducted a cleanup last month that required the people living there to move their stuff. Many homeless residents were displaced from local riverbeds due to recent storms. More than 6,000 San Jose residents are homeless, according to the countywide homeless count from 2022.

A man named Christian, who declined to provide his last name, said in Spanish that he questioned whether everyone living near Coyote Creek could find housing if the city cleared the area to build a park.

Another woman, who also declined to share her name, said in Spanish that it would be hard for everyone to find a place to live. She’s lived on the streets for about six years, and has been camping near the creek for about six months. When asked if she thinks the people living by the creek will be provided housing, she answered, “If not, where are we going to go?”

For Pantín, coming to America three decades ago was supposed to open the door for opportunity. He worked low-wage janitorial jobs and in grocery stores before ending up on the streets.

“Here in the United States, people in Mexico think it’s easy to get jobs,” he said. “It’s not easy … If you don’t have friends inside a company, it’s not easy to get a job in a company. When you are old like me, 70 years, it is hard to get a job.”

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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