SAN JOSE — Taking an unusual hands-on approach to the homelessness crisis in its backyard, Apple removed dozens of people from a homeless camp on its property this week — putting many of them up in motels and providing counseling and other services on its own dime.
At the tech giant’s behest, outreach workers were relocating the few remaining residents Friday, closing a camp that has grown over the past year into a sprawling maze of RVs, cars, tents and an estimated 200 tons of trash. Each resident was offered a nine-month stay in a motel, plus 12 months of case-management services to help with addiction, mental health, long-term housing plans and more — costing Apple millions of dollars, said Andrea Urton, CEO of nonprofit HomeFirst, which is working with Apple at the site.
While some residents of the camp have been hesitant to trust the company’s overtures, Urton said Apple’s actions are a shining example of what more private companies should do to address the suffering of the estimated 30,000 people living without housing in the five-county Bay Area.
“I think the level of Apple’s involvement is amazing, to be quite frank,” Urton said. “They could just kick these people off, throw away their belongings and displace them. That’s not what they chose to do.”
Dozens of people were living off Component Drive on vacant land that Apple had earmarked for its North San Jose campus. As part of a $2.5 billion pledge to address the region’s housing and homelessness crises, Apple promised in 2019 to make some of that land available for affordable housing. But progress has been slow, and no plans have been formalized.
Apple wouldn’t reveal exactly how much it was spending to help encampment residents or how many people it had relocated. In a statement in August, the company said it had been coordinating with local partners for months to support people living at the camp and to find alternative housing for them.
A handful of Apple camp residents declined the company’s offer of a motel room — many because they had RVs or other vehicles they didn’t want to be separated from. For them, the city plans to open an emergency safe-parking site Tuesday on Vista Montaña, according to Daniel Lazo, spokesman for San Jose’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services.
As a third alternative, camp residents also were offered space in Santa Clara County’s largest homeless shelter, the Boccardo Regional Reception Center. A few people declined all three choices, Urton said.
For 53-year-old Frank Pacheco, who had lived in an RV at the encampment for two years, his new Apple-sponsored motel room is “the best thing I could ever have.”
Pacheco, a former mechanic recovering from a work-related head injury, hopes his motel stay will give him a chance to rest, recuperate — and maybe find a job.
“It’s a wonderful thing that Apple’s doing for us,” he said. “They don’t have to do anything for us. They could just kick us off the property. They could just feed us to the wolves.”
Robert Carlson, 48, had been living at the Apple encampment for nearly two years, sleeping in a trailer that he describes as a studio apartment on wheels. He declined the offer of a hotel room because he didn’t want to be parted from his trailer, and he didn’t trust Apple and HomeFirst’s promise to store it.
Instead, he’ll take a chance on the new safe parking site.
“I’m going to try it and see what happens,” Carlson said. “I’ll give it a shot.”
But the timing of the new safe parking site worries activist Shaunn Cartwright, who has been working with unhoused residents at the Apple camp. She wishes Apple had waited to clear the camp until residents were given access to the parking program. Instead, people were forced to move their RVs and vehicles off Apple property without having a clear place to go.
“I think Apple has rushed this, because of their irrational, immovable end date of today,” Cartwright said Friday. “If they would have pushed that back farther to meet up with the slowness of the city’s safe parking date, I think it would have been more fair to the people.”
Apple’s funding also will provide residents with clothes, food and whatever else they need — even dental work for one resident with no teeth, Urton said. She hopes that by having a safe place to sleep and their basic needs met, residents will be able to focus on healing their physical ailments and improving their mental health. By the end of the nine months, some people who aren’t working may be ready for employment, she said.
But what Apple isn’t doing is providing anyone with a long-term solution. Because of the county’s extremely limited stock of affordable housing, Urton said she can’t promise any residents housing once their nine-month motel stay ends. And if someone doesn’t have an income, there’s no way they’d be able to afford even low-income housing.
“That’s the unfortunate reality in this situation,” she said.
Even so, Urton hopes more companies replicate the steps Apple is taking. It’s clear cities, counties and even the state don’t have the resources to solve homelessness on their own. But if they partnered with deep-pocketed corporations, it could make a big difference, she said.
“If every company took responsibility for what’s happening with homelessness in their neighborhood,” Urton said, “I think we’d nail it.”