The Jungle: Thousands of Homeless People Live in Shantytowns at the Epicenter of High-Tech, Super-Rich Silicon Valley
Photo Credit: Evelyn Nieves
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By mid-morning on Thursday, the sun was shining hard enough to dry wet blankets and the residents of the Jungle began surfacing, letting each other know they were still alive.
Six straight nights of freezing temperatures had tested their tenacity, not to mention their tarps and tents. It was so cold that the raccoons that raid the trash bins every night disappeared, a first. Ditto the crows, squirrels and feral cats. Life in the Jungle, 75 wooded acres off Interstate 101 in San Jose that comprises Silicon Valley’s largest homeless encampment, came to a standstill.
Photo: The entrance to the Jungle.
With the hard ground thawing, the Jungle looked as if spring had sprung. People strolled the dirt paths, rode their bikes and walked their dogs. Everyone in the Jungle—200 men and women, give or take—looked ready to celebrate surviving the earliest, coldest cold snap on record.
“We were lucky,” said Troy Feid, a former carpenter, squinting into the bright sky. “Not everyone was.”
Photo: Troy Feid, a former carpenter who suffers from depression, has lived in the Jungle on and off for six years. He ended up homeless after he lost his job when he went to jail for nearly a year for owning a motorcycle he didn't know was stolen. Now he lives in an elaborate encampment he built out of scrounged wood and plastic with his cat, Baby.
Four homeless men in Silicon Valley did not make it through the season’s first bout of sub-freezing temperatures. Over the last two weeks, three of them froze to death on the streets of San Jose, not far from the Jungle.
That people live and die on the streets of Silicon Valley is no news to the poor, of course. With more than 6,500 tech companies in all, Santa Clara County is home to the biggest stars in the tech universe, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Apple. But the land of high-tech milk and honey is also a prime example of the widening divide between the nation’s haves and have-nots.
For all its stock-option millionaires, the San Jose/Santa Clara County region (pop. 1.8 million) also has the nation’s fifth largest population of homeless (after New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego), according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The main culprits? Budget cuts that have frayed the safety net and sky-high housing costs. These days, a three-bedroom, one-bath starter home in San Jose, the county seat and one of its most affordable cities, costs a cool million. Rents for a two-bedroom apartment go from $2,000 to $5,000 a month, and those on the low-end are scarce.
While homelessness remains off the radar of the Silicon Valley titans, it keeps getting worse, up 20 percent in two years. More than 7,600 people sleep on the streets every night. Dozens of encampments dot the landscape, and thousands of people live in temporary quarters—shelters, motels, friends’ homes. Several private and public organizations in Santa Clara County are dedicated to helping the unhoused receive medical care, supplies and assistance in finding shelter. But funds and available units to move homeless people into permanent housing are meager.
For now, emergency shelters remain the only immediate option for those on the streets. But shelters prohibit pets and loads of possessions. Most people in the Jungle have both.
Photo: The Jungle is a place of many signs. Signs mark people's territories, give instructions as to where to put trash for pickup (the city picks up trash placed in trash bags it provides Jungle residents), welcome visitors, or more often, warn them away.
In fact, calling the Jungle an encampment hardly describes it. A shantytown of tents and shacks made from doors, tarps and whatever else people could find, the Jungle sits on county land along Coyote Creek just below street level from Story Road, a commercial hub anchored by a Walmart.