Reflection on “Exodus from the Jungle” Film
By Paige Combs, Sociology Community Change Major at SJSU
I first came to know Coyote Creek and what was previously known as “The Jungle” through my participation in the infamous Coyote Creek cleanups supported by various local environmental groups and Deb Kramer, program manager for Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful. It was on the 19th of September at one of the cleanup locations that I quickly had this brooding feeling as I was gathering personal belongings such as shoes, clothes, and blankets. I felt intrusive, like I was invading on somebody’s home. Despite that I also saw the heavy contamination that these items were costing us in the local environment and the potential future success of the surrounding habitat. I was no environmentalist at the time, or at least I didn’t identify myself as one; I was merely conscientious. I was conscientious to both the people that lived there that deserved a home and the surrounding environment that needed our help in order to thrive. This was the double edged sword.
On October 2, 2015 the premiere for “Exodus From the Jungle” was held at San Jose State’s Morris Daily Auditorium. This documentary’s inspiration was based on the eviction of the massive homeless encampment in Silicon Valley where hundreds of homeless individuals were forced to leave. Many of these individuals developed homes here. They’d bring in large furniture, mattresses, or other personal belongings that would then intrude on the natural habitat that surrounded Coyote Creek.
The environmental effects from them inhabiting this space was not intentional despite what many are convinced to believe. Myths surrounding homeless is that this population wanted to be here. That they don’t want jobs, to support family or to have a roof over their head. Many of the individuals in this space had jobs, but they didn’t get paid enough to afford housing in Silicon Valley. Some people are forced on to the street because of domestic violence, loss of jobs, or bankruptcy. Many individuals are educated, have families, have experience, but just simply cannot afford the housing prices in Silicon Valley. It’s not always an individual issue regarding personal motivation or poor choices, though there are some exceptions to this; it’s a social issue.
Interestingly, I was able to have a different perspective on my own volunteer work I’ve been doing because of this movie. I have a strong connection to understanding how nature works and the need to keep our environment healthy and clean. But, I also have an understanding when it comes to our needs with homelessness and offering these individuals a place to stay, camp, or just offer a place for them to rest. I was spending a lot of my time in the homes of these people, tearing apart their beds. Taking mattresses up hills. Even throwing away clothing covered in muck and shoes that were abandoned on the side of the hill. It was disturbing for me to see so many personal items laying around in a very sensitive area like Coyote Creek. But equally so, it was disturbing to know that we have homeless individuals who are forced to live here.
The conflict is that we need a clean environment, and we need homes for the homeless. We can’t displace an entire community of people. In a perfect world, we’d offer affordable housing as suggested by the individuals who were being interviewed. We would also offer sanctuaries for people suddenly forced on the street who have no other place to go. There are limited places for people to turn to when suddenly homeless. Many of these places even force families to split up, offering space for specifically women and children, or separate units for men and women. The need for cleaning habitats and the need to find those in poverty a place to stay shows how many issues interconnect and make us unable to solve one problem without causing another. Without thinking about the wider scope of issues, we displaced an entire community.
And that’s the true issue really. This issue of seeing poverty and lack of wealth and finally criminalizing individuals once finding them in that state. Not understanding that chronic homelessness increases addiction risks and other anti-social behaviors that will place them into categories, such as dangerous. We need to find our humanity as a community and realize that no one wants to be homeless. That people want to shower, want a roof over their heads, and need to experience a life with their families and friends safely without the hazards of living on the street. If we can realize that that’s the reality and not that these people are “lazy”, “using our tax money”, or various other comments applied to them, then we can actually resolve homelessness and put people off the streets and into homes or community living situations. This in turn also will help our environment and the health of the people.
This is a double-sided issue that needs to be addressed with more finesse than it has been. Just evicting this population wherever they move is not resolving the issue. They will keep living on the street and abandoning their personal belongings in the environment. Trash will continue to flood the Bay Area until we can gather up our resources and understand the rights to having a home, food, and water because there are not enough charitable organizations to fund this community. There needs to be a fight to get people off the street and in turn the environment can stay cleaner and stay healthier. That won’t happen without finding a resolution regarding the homeless community in Silicon Valley and this documentary was a prime indicator of that. I want to give the crew and the homeless individuals participating in this showing a job well done.
Something to consider:
A person working at the minimum wage earns $1648/month.
The average rent for a studio apartment in the Bay Area is $1931/month and continues to rise.
Source: SJ Mercury News 10/16/14
If you want to get involved please contact the following organizations or even visit “Exodus From the Jungle’s” Facebook page for more information.