According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are more than 600,000 people sleeping rough in the US.
In San Jose, the affluent “capital of Silicon Valley” hundred people have resorted to living in a shanty town of tents and blankets, known as the “jungle”. Its residents lack access to running water, electricity and toilets.
Authorities say they don’t have the resources to provide affordable housing.
Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds reports from San Jose, California.
By Mariam Ahmadi Simpson
A dog scavenges through a pile of trash looking for food. Nearby, a thin, middle-aged man does the same.
A maze of pathways winds through the tents and shanties made of scavenged lumber and plastic. The air is fetid. There is no running water, no electricity, no sanitary toilets. At the bottom of the gully, a creek is strewn with garbage and feces. Sometimes, people bathe in it because, of course, there are no showers.
These scenes could come from any number of third world shantytowns. But this is not India, nor Africa. This is Silicon Valley — home to the digital revolution.
Some of the country’s wealthiest people and most profitable companies can be found in this part of Northern California. But so, too, can the hundreds of Americans who live in one of the largest homeless encampments in the United States. They call it ‘the Jungle’.
“We have our Tarzans, we have our Janes, and at times it can get wild,” says Toi Larks, who calls this place home. A moment later she snaps at another resident of the Jungle who stops to watch our interview, “Can you get out of here? Alicia, can you go?!”
Larks and others say the police and emergency workers seldom venture into the homeless encampment. Social workers tell us the authorities do not feel equipped to handle the issues of the homeless, and they do not want to hassle people who are already hard on their luck.
Advocates for homeless people say it’s a myth that they prefer to live this way. “The vast majority of folks want to get out of here. They want to be in housing, they want to be safe at night, they want to have a place to go to the bathroom,” says Chris Richardson, programme director of Downtown Streets Team.
Some cities have launched successful programmes providing chronically homeless people with subsidised apartments and supportive care. But that’s difficult in an area that has among the highest home prices and rents in the country.
While some of the men and women in the camp are chronically homeless, others are long-time community members that have been priced out of the market.
Troy Feid, a tall, burly white man wearing overalls, sunglasses, a bandana and a goatee used to be a union carpenter. “It was great. I had plenty of cars and motorcycles and lived the way I wanted to,” he says.
But now he lives the way he has to – without a real home. When the economy took a hit so did his ability to find work. Feid was unable to pay his mortgage and ended up on the streets. He has lived in this camp for the past four years. And he doesn’t know if he’ll ever leave the Jungle.
Watch the six-part documentary series “The Slum” here.