Exodus From The Jungle: The Story Of That Morning

The Jungle, located on Story Road across from Happy Hollow, is one of the largest homeless encampments in the United States with close to 400 residents at the time of its dismantling. On December 3rd, the City of San Jose sent contracted cleaning crews and San Jose police to remove all residents from the Jungle and begin the removal of all their possessions. Andrew Bigelow, an artist and local organizer in San Jose, was there the day of the removal to cover the story with Fernando Perez (videographer) and Charisse Domingo (photographer) of De-Bug. Andrew has been working with the community at the Jungle and advocates for its residents for over a year. This is his first hand story of what happened that morning.


The night before we were told there was going to be a press conference and protest. Organizers, who had been aiding the community at the Jungle, heard that the City wouldn’t start the sweep until a few days after the rain. It had been pouring leading up to this Thursday. It was dark and wet, but the sky was clear. Everything was very still; San Jose hadn’t woken up yet. 

We showed up at the Jungle at 6am. The cops were already there. Story Road was coned off around from the bridge to the end of the Jungle. 

Our intention walking into the Jungle this morning was to film and document what was happening, but our focus quickly shifted to helping people. As soon as we crossed the bridge into the Jungle, a woman was climbing up the side of a muddy hill, pushing a cart and carrying a bag, yelling for help. Police officers just watched, from about 10 yards away. Our immediate reaction was to climb down the hill and help her. She was out of breath and stressed. Daylight hadn't even broke yet. We helped her down Story towards the bus stop. As we walked, we continued to see more people climbing up the muddy hill with everything they own. Police watched as the residents of the Jungle helped each other climb out. Maybe that was symbolic of how the only help they received was from each other. 

Photo by Charisse Domingo
Photo by Charisse Domingo

The sidewalk that separated The Jungle from Story Road had a temporary police fence drawing a line that stretched close to a quarter mile. As residents climbed out of the jungle, they put their belongings on the sidewalk. By 7am, the sun was rising over the east hills and the sidewalk was literally lined up with people’s lives. Everything people owned was inside bags and shopping carts. Some stood not knowing where to go – there was nowhere for people to go. 

By the time we reached the top of the Jungle – the place where organizations, churches, and concerned community would gather to give out food and supplies in the past, it was  complete mud. One woman was standing in the middle of the mud screaming. Everyone acted as if she wasn’t.

Community organizers circled across the street planning immediate next steps. The police wasn’t letting anyone cross the fence into the jungle, but some residents and organizers were able to convince police to let us cross the fence. Charisse and myself were allowed in and went to the edge of the top lot. We interviewed a former resident of the Jungle and now community organizer, Anthony King. While interviewing, an elderly woman was gathering her belongings nearby. We cut the interview short and helped the woman move her belongings to the sidewalk across the mud. Her name was Eva. She had a fractured hip and was afraid of falling. Charisse took her shopping cart and Eva grabbed my arm as we slowly walked across the muddy lot. 

What looked like a hundred City cleaners showed up to start destroying the camp. They were moving at such a fast pace, immediately tearing down tents and throwing away people’s belongings. Eva and I moved slow, being careful that she didn’t get hurt. When we got to the sidewalk, maybe 100 feet from her tent, she asked me to run to get her friend’s bicycle. They were separated during the frantic morning but she didn’t want her friend’s bike to be taken: an act of love. While standing on the sidewalk, Eva looked back and watched the workers destroy her home. She had lived there for almost a year. She turned to me and said, “There goes my home.” She said it with a strength that had endured this pain before. She walked to the bus stop to sit down because she couldn’t stand any longer.

My friend Robert was living at the Jungle on the top lot. He is an organizer and had been helping his friends all morning, but the time had come for his home to be destroyed, too. We brought a van and loaded all we could. What was left, we walked to the sidewalk. The contractor in charge of cleanup, Carlos Tovar, was yelling at his workers for Robert’s tent to be taken down while Robert gathered the last of his belongings. I held Robert’s dresser – a plastic organizing bin – at the edge of his tent, waiting for him. Tovar yelled at me to leave and when I explained that I was waiting for my friend, he rolled his eyes and told an officer to remove me from the area. A cop approached me. I watched workers tear down Robert’s tent as he exited it. Tovar was directing his workers with a sense of urgency like he was in a rush to go home.


Photo by Fernando Perez

Small bulldozers began descending into the Jungle, removing trash and people’s belongings, while people continued to walk up the hill carrying their things. People were hugging. Crying. Lost. By then, it must have only been noon. Being there was traumatic; I felt like I was still unpacking all that I saw. All the news cameras left, but for the people who were living at the jungle, the story didn’t end.

Student led group R.A.D. will be having their next Free Market this Friday December 19th, 8am to 1pm, in San Jose at McLaughlin Park on Owsley Ave, near the Story Road and McLaughlin Intersection. They are accepting donations from the larger public of clothes, blankets, food, and hygene products. Their free market is open to all, but will be specifically looking to serve those who were pushed out of the jungle. 

 

Related Media:
Exodus From "The Jungle": Photo Chronicle of the Closing Days of the Nation's Largest Homeless Encampment

Inside San Jose's Tent City

"Gold Out West" Music Video

PHOTOS: Silicon Valley's Low-Income Residents March to Google and Apple

About Andrew Bigelow

Andrew Bigelow is a Hip Hop artist as well as a writer and organizer with SiliconValley De-Bug. Follow him on social media as @HeIsAndrewBigs

This article is part of the category: Economy 
This article is part of the tags: Exodus  / Free  / From  / Jungle  / Market  / The 

Comments

It is very sad that extreme poverty exist in America but it is even sadder that there I s so much lack of humanity & compassion by the authorities responsible of handling situation like this .

somtime's you have to claw your way out

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