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Homeless in Los Gatos

Camp behind Old Town Center begins getting complaints from some local merchants who want the area cleaned up and those living there to move away.

It breaks Chad Parker's heart every time he cycles by the homeless camp behind Old Town Center in the heart of Los Gatos.

"It's a growing problem. There are a lot of people out of a house, a home and they're literally trying to build a shelter wherever they can find one. It's sad and this is a tough position for all sides," Parker says.

Almost inconspicuous due to its entrance being covered up with a large black foam pad, it's obvious to many who use the Los Gatos Creek Trail and enter through the back of Old Town Center.

The camp is located next to the center's south wall and drops down several feet to the water canal that runs parallel to Highway 17.

Clean and tidy for a homeless camp, its down embankment, however, is so full of trash that it will take a massive undertaking by town officials to clean it up.

Recently residents have been complaining about it, especially business owners who work near the area.

Those merchants, who wish to remain anonymous, say for many years the homeless have gathered in this spot without the town doing much about it.

"They haven't had much success," wrote one business owner to Los Gatos Patch about the problem. "It appears that recently there is a lot more activity and people living in that encampment.

"I know that a lot of people are uncomfortable with the traffic in and out of the area and the potential hazards due to the garbage and waste created by this situation."

A fence has been put up every week or so to block the homeless' entrance to the area, only to be cut down within the hour after the workers leave, the business owner said.

The merchants also say Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police officers were there about a month ago and removed truckloads of debris, but the area is full of furniture and waste again.

The foot bridge next to the camp's entrance is used by children, youth, runners, walkers and bicyclists, so the camp presents possible dangers to them, they said.

A woman, who identified herself as Kendall Avey, 54, said she's living there with a few men and stressed she cleans up the area daily, but "locals keep harassing us, watching our things at night."

She points to the footbridge's artwork being defaced with graffiti as a sign that others in town are worse offenders. "We're not vandals ... one of the men here has been selling his art, his paintings. He helps at St. Luke's Episcopal Church."

The woman said the people who live in the camp patronize the local businesses such as the nearby 7-Eleven, Safeway and Walgreen's.

She said a recent cleanup effort by town officials failed to remove all the debris down to the water canal and just cleared some branches. "I've only been here for about a month," she said, stressing she's not homeless. "This is a bunch of crap," she said, speaking rapidly.

She added the camp has been there for years with showers being offered to those living there on Tuesdays.

Patrick Lynn, the caretaker at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, right next to Old Town Center, said the camp has become a problem because too many homeless people come and go from the location now.

He said the church, however, has no problem with the homeless and knows how to deal with them without bothering the police. "I don't want to bother the police, they have enough responsibility already," Lynn said. "I handle the situations myself."

On Tuesdays at 10 a.m., the church feeds several destitute in its parish hall, he said.

He suspected about three people live in the camp, all gone during the day looking for work, running errands or spending time at the Los Gatos Library.

"They're 58 and 60 years old," Avey said about the men. "They're not vandals ... It's the kids that hang out here at night that cause the problems.

"They like living out. They're camping out," she said. "Where do you call your home? I call my home me."

Los Gatos Mayor Steve Rice on Monday said he didn't have any concrete information about the situation. "The referral just came in to the Town today, and it has been referred to the Police Department for investigation," he wrote in an email.

Avey said if the homeless are displaced, the town will have to find them an alternate place to live.

A security guard keeping watch behind Old Town Center referred inquiries about the situation to the complex management. "We don't want homeless people hanging around here," he said. "They've been there a long, long time."

—Los Gatos Patch will update this story as soon as more information becomes available.

Gabe Roberts October 02, 2012 at 01:56 PM
If the camp weren't so noticeable, it might not be a problem, but every day, hundreds of Los Gatos Creek Trail users pass it. People aren't supposed to camp there, and if it weren't there, then it's likely the youths referred to who hang out there as well and leave trash would not do so. The garbage is a big problem, and it would be surprising the that city or any other agency or group would have the resources to be cleaning it on a regular basis. At the least, the camp users should find another location that is less exposed. Also, over the months and years, the brush has been pushed away likely because there is more and more traffic into the camp. Also, if people at the camp are not homeless and are simply camping, then why do those abiding by the law do not have the option of camping in the thousands of acres of open space preserves located just a mile or two away, yet the individuals in the camp are allowed to do so? If the status quo is that people can reside on spaces like this, then it would provide for too much camping without any resources to monitor, police or clean it up. Finally, camps next to trails like this are what prevent people from using those public lands that taxes pay for. Just some perspective from someone who has been using the trail several times a week for the past few years. Oh, and the foam pad has been up for about a week.
Camille October 02, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Don't let this people full you. They camp because they chose to. They are offered plenty of resources to get them out of that situation and they refuse. In San Jose they post the camp for a 30 day eviction and then come back and remove the the camp. Anything valuable is not thrown away but booked for safekeeping. Los Gatos needs to adopt the same procedure or this camps will continue to multiply.
Larry Arzie October 02, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Homelessness is a problem of the times. Growing up near a creek there were what was called HoBo camps there. Working at a nearby restaurant in high school I was told to always give them a generous size meal free when they came calling. It was much more rural then so out of sight but my elders lived through the depression and understood more than i did about how to help. Kicking out the homeless does society no good. Moving them down the road does no good. Robbery, murder, and unemployment are at an all time high. Homelessness will not be cured by hiding the homeless. Social cures can happen only if we all pitch in and pull together. Traditionally Los Gatos has always been sympathetic to the needs of the down and out. St. Lukes leads the way. Many of our homeless, especially the women, have been given shelter privately. We are a small town, we have heart. Responsibility to our homeless should be strengthened not discarded. Our community soul is at stake here.
AR October 02, 2012 at 04:48 PM
the town should provide assistance in getting these people into permanent shelters, but regardless of that, this camp has to go. the trail is there to provide a clean, safe walking path for residents. the church isn't helping, they're creating a magnet for the homeless and then foisting the problem onto the public authorities.
Sandra Vaurs October 02, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Isn't helping those in need the mission of the Christian ministry? St. Lukes shouldn't be alone in their effort to assist. There are many churches in Los Gatos which should be offering to assist desperate people. The town isn't in the business of providing shelter.
Jeffrey Bachman October 02, 2012 at 06:24 PM
This is a much bigger problem. Just in the last two days I have seen 5 places in San Jose where people have set up camps, and three of them are along trails. Those living in these areas are just down on their luck and need a place to find respid. Many of them don't want to put up with the rules at the shelters and may be affected by mental problems. I think a coalition of Churches and community organizations can help them to find better options.
Ethan Harmer October 02, 2012 at 06:30 PM
"We don't want homeless people hanging around here," sees to be the attitude most people have. What we need is a solution that will help the homeless. Old Town businesses should take the initiative and formulate and fund a plan to help resolve the situation.
Gabe Roberts October 02, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Maybe someone should ask the people living there what a good solution is, it may bring about the best option for everyone. If that lead to the camp being vacated, then it could be sealed off to prevent it from being used again.
Ganeshamouse October 02, 2012 at 08:24 PM
These are human beings. I'm sure they'd rather have comfy apartments. Let them camp! Encourage them to keep the area clean and treat them with the respect and expectations due any citizen. I'm sure Los Gatos can afford a social worker dedicated to this little homeless community to help them get a place to live.
Ed Bellezza October 02, 2012 at 11:21 PM
When anyone advocates that there are plenty of resources for the homeless in Santa Clara County has no idea what they are talking about. Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County is a premier social welfare organization in this county. Last year I was trying to help a friend find shelter. The professionals at Catholic Charities told me that county resources were very overwhelmed and private organizations, such as churches, were strained to the breaking point.. They reported that getting any aid from any of these "resources" was extremely difficult, even for extreme cases such as battered women. Before making such inaccurate, irresponsible and inflammatory statements to the public, people should check their "FACTS" and hold their tongues until they do.
Sheila Sanchez (Editor) October 02, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Writing follow-up story on this issue for tomorrow. Stay tuned. Thanks for the comments. Trying to find out if today and tomorrow's closure of the trail will affect the camp and if cleanup there is part of the work. Thanks for reading, everyone.
Sandra Vaurs October 03, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Rudeness has no place on a forum. Ed should apologize to whomever he was aiming that flame at. Everyone has a right to their own opinion and that is what this forum is for. Play nice or don't play at all.
K October 04, 2012 at 12:22 AM
My concern is about sanitation. Has anyone else noticed the smell when you pass near the apartment building near 17 when heading away from downtown? This building is home to others and someones property. Can rodents not be far behind regarding sanitation? I do not see how an unsanitary environment, smell and the proximity to buildings is in the best interest of all affected.
Gabe Roberts October 04, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Regarding the smell - I have never crossed that section of the trail (from the Mill to the Main St. under crossing) without there being the smell. I do have to note, however, that I believe it is in no connection to those residing on the trail, as I have never seen anyone living there, nor any deposits on that section. I believe there may be a sewer leak in the vicinity. Personal observation. I name that section of the LGCT "Stinky's Stretch". =)

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