As the holiday season began last month, a sad counterpoint to a time of giving was the destruction of what was thought to be the largest homeless encampment in the country. Ironically, “the Jungle,” 68 acres of tents and shacks lived in by some 300 people, was in San Jose, California, the self-described capital of Silicon Valley, and one of the richest cities in the United States. Water pollution caused by trash and human waste entering nearby San Francisco Bay was cited as the reason for the forced closure.
Attempts have been made to find new places to live for the Jungle’s homeless, and housing vouchers had been issued, but the shortage of shelters — and a real estate market so out of control and inflated by the tech industry — meant that many were evicted with no place to go. As The New York Times reported:
“… Scores of Jungle residents hauled their belongings out of makeshift homes. Many pushed shopping carts piled high with blankets, clothing and dishes, tugging as the wheels got stuck in the mud. Many had dogs on leashes. When asked where they would go that night, ‘I have no idea’ was the common refrain.”
In the weeks since the Jungle’s demise, its former residents have tried starting new, smaller shantytowns, only to have each one quickly shut down by authorities. “The people who have been swept from the Jungle are just sleeping somewhere else now,” the executive director of a local non-profit told the San Jose Mercury News . “We’re just shifting people around. The problem isn’t going away.”
In April 2013, Lauren Feeney and Cameron Hickey produced for BillMoyers.com this memorable report on Silicon Valley as a microcosm of America’s vast divide between rich and poor. Watch now: