The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the closure of a large homeless encampment located near the Mineta San Jose International Airport, according to multiple reports. The encampment has grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but as pandemic-related restrictions ease, renewed attention around homeless encampments is spurring action.
The camp sits on a 40-acre property intended as a safety buffer between the airport and surrounding neighborhoods, and has spread to the Guadalupe River Park. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has stated the location is unsafe for human residency due to its heavy noise pollution and proximity to runways, as well as unsafe for aircrafts attempting to fly over the area. Community members, including environmental activists and nearby business owners, have also expressed concern over the encampment growth into Guadalupe River Park.
The encampment’s current population is estimated at between 200 and 500 residents, raising questions about where these unhoused individuals will reside following their removal. Some have speculated that the removal of the airport encampment will result in the unhoused dispersing to other encampments throughout the city, rather than into shelters and homes, “I don’t think they [the city] care that dispersing a camp like this with so few places to go means that you’re dispersing these people to a wider and wider area,” local activist Shaunn Cartwright told the Mercury News.
Neil Rufino of the San Jose Department of Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services has expressed similar concerns. “We are balancing the FAA’s requirements with the need to treat all encampment residents with dignity and humanity,” he said in a statement to the Mercury News. “We are considering a number of housing and shelter options. But frankly, it’s going to be challenging. There’s money for the unhoused, but you’re gonna have to do something incredible to make this one work.”
The Mineta San Jose International Airport has stated a goal to fully remove the encampment by April 2022 and shield the property with 8 foot fences, but the FAA has requested a more detailed report that includes specific benchmarks and deadlines. The airport plans to submit its report on July 31, 2021, and continues to emphasize that the removal is a safety precaution.
Airport officials also noted that compliance with FAA regulations is required to continue federal funding for the San Jose Airport. In a statement to ABC7 News, an FAA representative said, “Airports that receive federal funds must ensure airport property is used for its intended purpose.”
As the deadline for this report approaches, many residents of the encampment have begun to migrate to a nearby 55-acre property owned by Apple near Trimble Road and Highway 101, three miles from the airport encampment. Cartwright sees this move as an example of how wealthy tech companies can alleviate some of the daily struggles the Bay Area’s unhoused face. “There’s no plausible defense to sit there and say ‘I’m going to keep this land empty’ and not step up as a good neighbor, and provide safe parking to these people who are so desperately in need,” he told CBS this week. “We need tech to be a good neighbor, we need them to allow safe parking for a year or two on this land, until housing is built for these people.” Apple has yet to comment on the encampment.