ALERT: Police Arrest Squatters In Downtown San Jose, CA, USA FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 17 Jul 1999 10:09:42 -0700 (PDT)


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http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/1999/07/13/MN2025
5.DTL&type=printable
FWD  San Francisco Chronicle  Tuesday, July 13, 1999  Page A13

     SAN JOSE FOCUSES ON SQUATTERS

     POLICE ISSUE WARNIGNS, CITATIONS, MAKE ARRESTS

     Julie N. Lynem, Chronicle Staff Writer

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA: In response to a growing number of complaints by
property owners, the San Jose Police Department has begun a citywide
program to oust squatters from business and residential buildings,
drawing criticism from some shelter providers. They say the move is
another attempt to move undesirables out of desirable areas at a time
when shelter space is at a premium.

Established more than a year ago as a pilot program for downtown
San Jose, Stop Trespassing On Public/Private Property (STOP) was
recently expanded citywide as one of the department's community
policing measures. So far, police have made contact with more than
100 violators, according to Rubens Dalaison, a Police Department
spokesman.

The first time, officers give out a warning and a card with phone
numbers to community resource agencies. The second time can result in
a citation or arrest.

``We were getting complaints from business owners and residents in
the downtown area whose vacant residence or business was damaged from
vandalism,'' Dalaison said. ``People were calling the police and
flagging them down, saying there was something going on in this
house. We said, `Let's get together and figure out a way that we can
reduce urban blight.' ''

But Pastor Scott Wagers, a community minister of the First
Christian Church of San Jose Disciples of Christ and director of San
Jose's Community Homeless Alliance Ministry, said he believes the
program's purpose is to remove homeless people from the city.

``It's part of a larger strategy to criminalize and marginalize
poor people. It's just another way to target people who are
victims,'' said Wager, who estimates that about 4,500 people in San
Jose are homeless on any given day.

San Jose Councilwoman Cindy Chavez rejected that idea, saying the
program is not a tool for the city to get rid of the homeless.

Chavez, who represents the downtown district, believes Police
Department program will enable officers to be more effective on their
neighborhood beats. To participate, homeowners and business owners
must fill out a form provided by the Police Department, which
authorizes an officer to enter private property in the event of
criminal or suspicious activity.

Chavez also sees the program as a way to keep the community safe.

Trespassers ``could be kids hanging out who are unsupervised,''
she said. ``It could be someone older who just shouldn't be there. I
think it's an excellent program, especially when we're in the process
of revitalizing, and, frankly, I'm excited.''

Noelle Knell, communications director for the San Jose Downtown
Association, which represents more than 2,000 businesses, said
property owners ``obviously want to keep a clean appearance to the
community and put their best foot forward.''

But Knell said the program's effect on the homeless also is a
concern of the membership. She believes the community policing
component is an essential part of the program.

``We want to do what we can to connect people to the abundance of
services available,'' she said. ``We want to make sure that folks
impacted by the program are aware of the services that are available
to them.'' The availability of services, however, is the problem,
homeless advocates said.

According to Wagers, the city has ordered his church's 50-person
shelter to close by July 19 because of zoning restrictions. Wagers
said the shelter will remain open, even if the church has to shell
out $2,500 in fines per day.

``We turn away people every night,'' Wagers said. ``It seems that
no one is really stepping up with a solution. It's a complex issue
that can be worked with, but it requires patience and a degree of
boldness. But things can happen. Homelessness won't go away.''

Jan Bernstein, community relations manager for InnVision, a
nonprofit San Jose homeless program, said the problem may get worse
before it gets better. With few affordable housing complexes, more
families have been forced out into the streets.

``First they stay with friends or family,'' she said. ``But when
they exhaust their resources of supporters, they stay in a car, a
basement or an abandoned garage. It becomes a downward spiral.''

END FORWARD

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