In the very heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose, at spitting distance from the headquarters of Apple, there is the largest in the US 68-acre camp for the homeless. This place is called “Jungle”, but it looks more like ordinary slums. Here, in tents, huts and houses on trees homeless live for years – including released into circulation geeks who could not adapt to innovations of the Valley and ended up on the street. Meanwhile, every day a Yahoo office bus goes by the “Jungle” rides, full by employees.
Today there are approximately 300 people, some with their families. However the authorities want to settle the “Jungle”, to demolish shacks, and all their belonings that won’t be taken away they will destroy as garbage. San Jose authorities have allocated $ 4 million for housing subsidies for the settlers, but this is not enough. In addition, homeowners do not want to lease for former vagabonds their apartments, preferring tenants with a perfect credit history. “It’s hard to find a place for these guys, especially to compete with younger technicians” – complains the manager of working with the homeless Ray Bremson.
A 60-year-old engineer Robert Aggire has been living in the camp for the homeless with his wife for six months. He received his subsidy in July, but has not yet found a house. “When house holders know that I am from the Jungle, they say – no, this is unacceptable,” – he explained. Robert told a journalist Josh Harkinson from the Mother Jones pubblication his story about how he turned from a successful businessman to a vagabond.
Robert Aggire’s History
For many years, I had my own engineering consultancy in Silicon Valley. I helped get a lot of products approved under FCC and UL standards for companies such as 3Com, Dell, Microsoft, and Cisco—until all the manufacturers decided to move out of the country. I was offered a position in China. I’ve been there, and quite frankly I don’t want to live there. That’s why a lot of people are out of jobs. The jobs that do remain are very technical and usually they hire people right out of school or while they’re still in school. Old farts like me don’t have a chance of competing. I lost my business and the house I owned. When the economy took a dump it took me with it.
My wife is a medical clerk who makes about $3,000 a month. She’s handicapped and couldn’t take it going up and down the stairs in the apartment we were renting in San Jose, so we ended up finding another place. We gave our notice, and then as the day approached for us to move into our new place, that landlord told us he’d decided to rent out to relatives and we couldn’t move in. So then we went back to the first landlord and she said, “Sorry, I already rented it out.” So we had to put everything into storage and we started living in the car, trying to find apartments.
We’d been paying $1,750 a month, which is about as cheap as rent comes here unless you want to live in a roach motel. We were looking for places in that same price range, but all the rents had gone up and the cheapest ones we could find were around $1,900. The other problem was when you go and apply at a lot of different places it creates a hit on your credit, and eventually you don’t qualify because your credit score gets so low. They told us it would take about a year to recover from that. We’re really not making enough money to afford conventional housing, yet we make too much money for subsidized homes. So we’re kind of floating between the oil and water somewhere in there. After sleeping in the car for about two months, my wife’s legs and feet were swelling up. The doctor said she had edema as a result of not being able to have her feet elevated. That’s a very common malady for people who sleep in their car, who don’t get a chance to really stretch out. So her doctor recommended we get a tent. All the campgrounds were too far out of the city, so we decided to move into the Jungle.
Techno giants are to blame
In the jungle the gangs, theft and even murder are thriving, and police are trying not to interfere and run all over the village. I think that technology companies are obliged to help the Valley. It is they who are responsible for the fact that people have lost their jobs, the status of the middle class and are homeless. And they stimulate excessive growth of prices on property in the region – higher than many can afford.
Our tent, which we pitched up top near the road, is much larger than those of other people around here. We have iPhones and a wireless hotspot. I even had solar panels at one point before they got stolen. We’re in a different category from most of the other people here, though we’re far from the only ones who are gainfully employed and trying to do things for themselves but just can’t afford a place.
My wife and I received housing voucher about four months ago, but so far it hasn’t been a vehicle for us getting housing any quicker. The problem is that a lot of landlords don’t want to deal with vouchers. They’d rather not divulge how much money they’re making on their apartments. I’m among the lucky ones, though. There’s only 200 housing vouchers.