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Protesters in East Palo Alto Fight the Evictions of Working Families Forced to Live in RVs

Protesters hold signs and shout at a Silicon Valley homeless encampment known as the Jungle in 2014, in San Jose, California.
Protesters hold signs and shout at a Silicon Valley homeless encampment known as the Jungle in 2014, in San Jose, California.
Josh Edelson/Getty Images

The city of East Palo Alto, California, sent a tow truck on Wednesday morning to haul away a dozen RVs in which homeless families have been living. The tow truck was met by a crowd of protesters, who blocked its way and helped push broken RVs into new curbside parking spaces where they would be safe from the eviction order issued by the city. The San Jose Mercury News called the move “a crackdown on the new mode of low-income housing in the Bay Area.”

The problem, East Palo Alto says, is that RV residents there have clogged storm drains by illegally dumping sewage from the campers. With big rains expected at the end of the week, the city is concerned the sewage could flood the area.

This kind of police action, a periodic occurrence in the Bay Area, is another sign of how dire the housing crisis has become at the heart of Silicon Valley, where even families with two working parents are living out of RVs and dumping shit into street drains. Most of the kids living on Weeks Street belong to the Ravenswood City School District, which draws students from East Palo Alto and part of nearby Menlo Park. More than half of the kids in the 4,500-student district are homeless, the superintendent, who joined the protest, told the Mercury News. The block in question is about a mile and a half from Facebook’s headquarters, and adjacent to the future site of the Primary School, a middle school being developed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

In the San Jose metro area, where the median home price is approaching nation-high $1.2 million, living in a parking spot is becoming more and more common. Gilroy, at the southern edge of Santa Clara County, now has a higher ratio of homeless residents per capita than D.C. or San Francisco, according to a county survey. Countywide, the number of homeless residents is up 13 percent since 2015. Homelessness is up 26 percent in Palo Alto, 51 percent in Mountain View (home of Google), and 74 percent in Cupertino (home of Apple) over that two-year stretch.

The crisis is not the fault of those tech companies, though, but of local governments who continue to fight tooth and nail against building any new housing at all. Just this week, the San Francisco suburb of Burlingame stalled the approval of a 128-unit, four-story apartment complex two blocks from a train station. And while it’s true that new apartment complexes are not affordable to the area’s homeless families, new housing creates space for wealthier residents who would otherwise gentrify places like East Palo Alto. No matter, according to Burlingame: “Do we need this big of an apartment complex at this time in our city’s life? I don’t know if we do,” the planning commission chair said.

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