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Apple has committed billions of dollars to fixing California’s housing crisis. But clusters of homeless people living in dilapidated RVs, shacks, and tents have taken over dozens of acres of undeveloped land owned by the company in the center of Silicon Valley. There’s even dumpsters and porta-potties.
Anywhere from 30 to 100 homeless people have coalesced on the property owned by the iPhone-maker in North San Jose, according to local sources and residents. The area covers about 55 acres, KPIX, a local CBS affiliate, reported. Some current residents of the site, which has grown in population over the past several months, say they can be left alone there, despite its proximity to PayPal’s corporate headquarters and other office buildings.
Before the pandemic, approximately 6,000 homeless people lived in San Jose, with fewer than 1,000 available beds to shelter them. And while homeless people living outdoors and in vehicles across the Bay Area are typically used to being shuffled from place to place or driven out by disgruntled residents, that isn’t the case yet at the Apple property, according to Renee Corona, who has lived in an RV there for nearly two years.
“This is an area where you’re secluded from the city,” said Corona, who receives disability payments but cannot afford to live in the region where she was raised. “I don’t think a lot of people knew about this.”
“I’m grateful that they don’t kick us out,” Corona added. “I just want to say thank you. They don’t bother us.”
The encampment hasn’t gone unnoticed by the city. San Jose City Council member David Cohen, whose district includes the property, told VICE News that his office is trying to schedule a meeting with Apple to discuss the site. Apple also confirmed it’s “been in talks with the city to find a solution.”
“We’re setting up a meeting so that I can begin to talk to them about what we might be able to do to help the people who are living there, and to figure out some plan for offering services,” Cohen said.
Cohen said he imagined Apple would be “cooperative” in trying to help. His vision is that the site could be used as a temporary site to house people.
An RV, cars, and garbage strewn about one section of the homeless encampment on Apple's undeveloped property in San Jose, California. (Photo courtesy of Richard Scott, former supervisor for Santa Clara County’s mental health homeless team)
The property isn’t entirely without problems, however. When KPIX was on the site for a story, San Jose police recovered a stolen car, according to the outlet. And at least one advocate said that some parts of the encampment are disorganized and “out of control.”
“There’s some people that keep their areas clean, and others that throw trash everywhere,” said Scott Largent, an advocate and homeless person who lives in an RV in San Jose.
For some, though, the site has been helpful. One resident, who asked to be referred to as “Tigs,” told VICE News that she’s been living on Apple’s land for about a year. The 40-year-old working carpenter, who’s currently saving money to find a place to live, said she built an 8-by-8 foot structure there.
“The people that are living here, we’d like Apple to know we’d like to try to make this a healthier environment,” Tigs said. “We want to make it eco-friendly and create systems for water consumption and energy.”
In 2019, Apple committed $2.5 billion to address California’s searing housing crisis, which included setting aside some of the land it owns in San Jose for the development of new affordable housing. Already, it’s deployed $1 billion to support new builds, help first-time homeowners buy property, and expand programs that address homelessness in the Bay Area.
“The people that are living here, we’d like Apple to know we’d like to try to make this a healthier environment.”
Like other tech companies in the area, Apple has also dealt with homelessness closer to its headquarters; a small encampment cropped up near its $5 billion campus in Cupertino and was still there in April, according to OneZero. In the past, campsites have also shown up near Facebook and Google’s headquarters.
And there’s a chance that the undeveloped Apple-owned property in North San Jose could grow. It’s not far off from one of the region’s largest homeless encampments—near the Mineta San Jose International Airport, where at least 200 people reside—which has come under threat.
The Federal Aviation Administration has pressured the city to come up with a plan to remove the hundreds of campers from the vacant land—and could ultimately withhold millions of dollars in grant funding if officials fail to follow through. The land is a noise-buffer property where homeless people could be exposed to the roar of overhead planes.
A spokesperson for the airport said there’s no timeline yet for clearing homeless people from the 40-acre parcel of land, though the deadline will likely fall in mid-2022.
“Our hope is that we can find appropriate accommodations for everyone before the area is cleared,” the spokesperson said.
But if the camp winds down, and if there’s not another viable location to head to, residents might decide to move over to the encampment on Apple’s property.
Largent, who is currently residing in an RV on the airport’s land, said he went to the Apple encampment Monday night and didn’t see much crossover between the two properties. Richard Scott, the former supervisor for Santa Clara County's mental health homeless team, visited this week as well and also didn't believe Apple’s property was growing due to an influx of homeless people coming from the airport encampment.
Even so, the Apple encampment “has started to explode,” said Largent, estimating its population at around 100 people.
“It’s a dump, to let you know,” Largent said.