December 1, 2014

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE: How Silicon Valley Created America’s Largest Homeless Camp.

Feid, an unemployed union carpenter, lives in a fortress of netting and plastic tarp with a cat named Baby. He’s one of the 278 people who’ve claimed a spot in the thicket of cottonwood trees along Coyote Creek. He first moved here four years ago when he ran out of work. . . .

The 53-year-old carpenter made good money at the height of the Silicon Valley construction boom in the 1980s and ’90s. He built movie theaters and installed ceilings in the new offices of high-tech companies that put San Jose and the rest of Santa Clara County on the map.

“All the buildings around here, you know, I probably worked on them,” said Feid, who was making up to $35 an hour in those days. Then came the dot-com crash in 2000, bankrupting dozens of Internet companies and drying up construction work. Feid lost his apartment and bounced around for years, living in people’s garages as he remodeled their homes. In 2009, a friend kicked him out and Feid found himself on the streets. All he had was his motorcycle and a few tarps.

“You build everything up … then you lose your job and then everything falls apart again,” Feid said. “At least here in the creek you know what your status is.”

The number of people living in the camp has tripled since Feid first moved in. The Jungle now has a Spanish-speaking section, and up the creek is the Vietnamese enclave known as Little Saigon. The explosive growth has led to more violence and filth. Dogs rummage through heaps of garbage and human waste. . . .

The current tech boom has made Silicon Valley one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing regions of the country. That has created one of the country’s most expensive rental markets, pushing low-wage workers out of Santa Clara County or onto the streets.

“You need to work five minimum-wage jobs to afford to live here,” said Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, the public-private partnership to end homelessness in Santa Clara County. “No one can do that. That right there creates a huge income disparity.”

This year, San Jose and the surrounding county surpassed Los Angeles as having the country’s highest rate of homeless people living on the streets, according to the annual homelessness assessment report from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. Three-quarters of the area’s 7,567 homeless residents are from Santa Clara County. Most of them live in one of San Jose’s 247 tent cities, just miles from the sprawling headquarters of Google and Apple.

Silicon Valley: America’s future?

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