Homeless residents of Milpitas face an uphill battle

The homeless crisis in Milpitas could be heading for a stalemate, as officials and advocates accuse the mayor of making the problem worse.

Milpitas, a town of about 80,000, began to see its homeless population swell during the COVID-19 pandemic. A camp behind the city library, one of the largest camps in Milpitas, has grown to 18 RVs and vehicles, with about a dozen people sleeping there. According to the county, there are about 100 homeless people across the city.

As advocates and some city council members seek ways to secure services and housing for homeless residents, they say Mayor Rich Tran is blocking and sometimes mocking their efforts.

“When we look at other cities, the mayors in those cities are really taking a preventative approach to homelessness and tackling homelessness head-on,” Milpitas council member Karina Dominguez told San José Spotlight. . “We haven’t had that leadership in this city. Frankly, it’s incredibly embarrassing.

Mayor Tran, city spokesperson Charmaine Angelo and City Manager Steven McHarris did not respond to multiple inquiries regarding the claims against the mayor.

In a recent social media post, Tran called on advocates at the nonprofit HOPE for the Unhoused to adopt homeless people to “make a difference.”

“I wish I had more rooms in my house, I don’t have an extra room anymore,” Tran said on Facebook.

Screenshot of Mayor Rich Tran’s Facebook post.

The mayor has also spent the past few weeks touting plans to explore orders to lock out shopping carts and ban the storage of belongings on public roads, laws that would further criminalize the homeless population.

Members of HOPE for the Unhoused have spent the past two years helping the city’s homeless, bringing them food, taking them to medical appointments, offering their homes as transitional housing, and transporting garbage from the camp after the city refused to provide a dumpster and trash. pickup trucks along Railroad Avenue. They called the mayor’s post an attack.

“We spent two years trying to sit down and work with the mayor with no success,” nonprofit member Yolie Garcia told San Jose Spotlight. “I’m exhausted and I feel insulted.”

Dominguez also pitched tents outside City Hall earlier this month to protest the mayor’s plan to eliminate a homeless outreach and assessment program with the county. She pointed to funding the city’s $16 million US federal bailout as a possible way to increase services for the homeless — a proposal Tran dropped.

“The conversation was held hostage by the mayor,” Dominguez told San José Spotlight. “The mayor does not want to put this conversation on the agenda.”

Tran said he was “not at war with the homeless (population)” when responding to a resident on Facebook this week.

“I listen to hard-working locals in many neighborhoods who are very concerned about the burn and public safety,” Tran wrote.

Defenders and residents gathered along Railroad Avenue last weekend in anticipation of tow trucks. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Swipe attempts escalated

At the center of the tension is the homeless camp located on Railroad Avenue.

In February, Tran attempted to sweep a row of vehicles – the home of an 82-year-old veteran, a survivor of domestic violence and people with disabilities, among others. The plan fell apart after the Silicon Valley Law Foundation sent Milpitas a letter calling the abatement unconstitutional.

Then, on March 9, the police department issued a 72-hour notice that camp vehicles would be fined and towed over the weekend. Lawyers and homeless people spent last Saturday waiting for tow trucks, fearing their shelters and possessions would be taken away. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Milpitas police showed up at 4 a.m. Sunday to issue parking tickets instead.

Teo Cajes, homeless for five years, recently found a part-time job. He hopes the city won’t tow his car. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

“I pray to God they don’t tow my car,” Teo Cajes told San José Spotlight, standing in front of a broken car he’s sleeping in. “It is all I have.”

The city delayed the tow plan after receiving requests for disabled accommodations from people in the camp, the Milpitas Police Department captain said. Frank Morales.

Morales said the department has worked with advocates to help the homeless, but the city needs to address concerns from businesses on Main Street and nearby warehouses.

“The app is not an attempt to criminalize the people who are there,” Morales told San José Spotlight. “We will continue to partner with outside groups to help them.”

Homeless residents along Railroad Avenue said they know the law.

“But where (are we) supposed to go?” Lynn Shipman told San Jose Spotlight, adding that there is a two-year wait for any mobile home park in the South Bay. “I can feel my shoulders all tense thinking about it.”

Advocates working with the homeless and the city are also frustrated.

“Instead of building bridges, the mayor is just attacking us,” attorney Loreto Dimaandal told San José Spotlight.

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