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Survival and defeat in Silicon Valley slum

  • ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014, AND THEREAFTER- In this March 18, 2014 photo, man walks along a pathway in the early morning in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle is home at times to as many as 350 residents, almost all San Jose locals, and is believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014, AND THEREAFTER- In this March 18, 2014 photo, man walks along a pathway in the early morning in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle is home at times to as many as 350 residents, almost all San Jose locals, and is believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • In this March 4, 2014 photo, a man who goes by the name of D cooks lunch from a makeshift tent where he lives in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle is home at times to as many as 350 residents, almost all San Jose locals, and is believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. It’s easy to forget that the geeks and Web entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley are making their millions just miles away. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    In this March 4, 2014 photo, a man who goes by the name of D cooks lunch from a makeshift tent where he lives in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle is home at times to as many as 350 residents, almost all San Jose locals, and is believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. It’s easy to forget that the geeks and Web entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley are making their millions just miles away. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • In this March 18, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar holds a dog in her tent in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Salazar, a woman with a criminal record, two dogs, no phone and no identification had to find an apartment in one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S., or the subsidy housing she qualified for could disappear. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    In this March 18, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar holds a dog in her tent in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Salazar, a woman with a criminal record, two dogs, no phone and no identification had to find an apartment in one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S., or the subsidy housing she qualified for could disappear. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • In this Feb. 25, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks past garbage on a hillside in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. In March heavy storms rolled in to the Jungle in one night, Salazar’s tent was water tight, but she said she wasn't happy amid the omnipresent trash: torn lingerie, a half-eaten corn cob, a sticky Starbucks cup, molding bread, a dented deodorant aerosol can. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    In this Feb. 25, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks past garbage on a hillside in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. In March heavy storms rolled in to the Jungle in one night, Salazar’s tent was water tight, but she said she wasn't happy amid the omnipresent trash: torn lingerie, a half-eaten corn cob, a sticky Starbucks cup, molding bread, a dented deodorant aerosol can. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • In this March 4, 2014 photo, Bobby Tovar fixes a bike in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Tovar's mother Maria Esther Salazar also lived in the Jungle before moving into an apartment after receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    In this March 4, 2014 photo, Bobby Tovar fixes a bike in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Tovar's mother Maria Esther Salazar also lived in the Jungle before moving into an apartment after receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • In this Feb. 28, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle and several hundred smaller encampments in the region are the consequence of urban sprawl, with large open spaces that are not parks, and thus without rangers. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    In this Feb. 28, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle and several hundred smaller encampments in the region are the consequence of urban sprawl, with large open spaces that are not parks, and thus without rangers. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • In this March 18, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar gets a hug from a friend in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. With a seven-year, 20,000-person waiting list, Salazar qualified for housing support: a new locally funded, $1,295 monthly subsidy aimed at ending chronic homelessness awaited her. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    In this March 18, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar gets a hug from a friend in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. With a seven-year, 20,000-person waiting list, Salazar qualified for housing support: a new locally funded, $1,295 monthly subsidy aimed at ending chronic homelessness awaited her. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar, right, gets help carrying belongings from a friend in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, as she packs to move into an apartment after receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

    In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar, right, gets help carrying belongings from a friend in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, as she packs to move into an apartment after receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • In this March 18, 2014 photo, a woman balances herself as she crosses a creek in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Eventually, environmental and social concerns prompt homeless encampments to be cleaned out or cleaned up. San Jose has swept hundreds of encampments in recent years, and many of those homeless now live in the Jungle. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    In this March 18, 2014 photo, a woman balances herself as she crosses a creek in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Eventually, environmental and social concerns prompt homeless encampments to be cleaned out or cleaned up. San Jose has swept hundreds of encampments in recent years, and many of those homeless now live in the Jungle. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks with a friend's dog as she carries belongings from her tent in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, to move into an apartment after receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

    In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks with a friend's dog as she carries belongings from her tent in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, to move into an apartment after receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks up a staircase to her new apartment on move-in day after living in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, in San Jose, Calif. Salazar will receive a monthly housing subsidy for rent. Jennifer Loving, executive director of the nonprofit housing agency Destination: Home, spearheaded a new, concerted effort in San Jose to house people and keep them housed. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

    In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks up a staircase to her new apartment on move-in day after living in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, in San Jose, Calif. Salazar will receive a monthly housing subsidy for rent. Jennifer Loving, executive director of the nonprofit housing agency Destination: Home, spearheaded a new, concerted effort in San Jose to house people and keep them housed. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar, right, listens as James Worley, of Abode Services, which assists in placement and subsidizing rent costs, helps her fill out paper work so she to move into an apartment in San Jose, Calif. Salazar was living in the Jungle, believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S., before receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

    In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar, right, listens as James Worley, of Abode Services, which assists in placement and subsidizing rent costs, helps her fill out paper work so she to move into an apartment in San Jose, Calif. Salazar was living in the Jungle, believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S., before receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks with her dog Chico in her apartment on the day she moved in after living in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, in San Jose, Calif. Salazar will receive a monthly housing subsidy for rent. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

    In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks with her dog Chico in her apartment on the day she moved in after living in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, in San Jose, Calif. Salazar will receive a monthly housing subsidy for rent. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • In this March 18, 2014 photo, man walks along a pathway in the early morning in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle is home at times to as many as 350 residents, almost all San Jose locals, and is believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    In this March 18, 2014 photo, man walks along a pathway in the early morning in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle is home at times to as many as 350 residents, almost all San Jose locals, and is believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014, AND THEREAFTER- In this March 18, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar, right, gets a visit from her friend Michelle, only first name given, inside of her tent in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Salazar been arrested dozens of times, convicted of 17 felonies, almost all drug related. She had four children but raised none. Her mother, or foster parents, took them in. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014, AND THEREAFTER- In this March 18, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar, right, gets a visit from her friend Michelle, only first name given, inside of her tent in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Salazar been arrested dozens of times, convicted of 17 felonies, almost all drug related. She had four children but raised none. Her mother, or foster parents, took them in. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014, AND THEREAFTER- In this March 18, 2014 photo, man walks along a pathway in the early morning in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle is home at times to as many as 350 residents, almost all San Jose locals, and is believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • In this March 4, 2014 photo, a man who goes by the name of D cooks lunch from a makeshift tent where he lives in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle is home at times to as many as 350 residents, almost all San Jose locals, and is believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. It’s easy to forget that the geeks and Web entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley are making their millions just miles away. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • In this March 18, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar holds a dog in her tent in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Salazar, a woman with a criminal record, two dogs, no phone and no identification had to find an apartment in one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S., or the subsidy housing she qualified for could disappear. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • In this Feb. 25, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks past garbage on a hillside in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. In March heavy storms rolled in to the Jungle in one night, Salazar’s tent was water tight, but she said she wasn't happy amid the omnipresent trash: torn lingerie, a half-eaten corn cob, a sticky Starbucks cup, molding bread, a dented deodorant aerosol can. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • In this March 4, 2014 photo, Bobby Tovar fixes a bike in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Tovar's mother Maria Esther Salazar also lived in the Jungle before moving into an apartment after receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • In this Feb. 28, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle and several hundred smaller encampments in the region are the consequence of urban sprawl, with large open spaces that are not parks, and thus without rangers. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • In this March 18, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar gets a hug from a friend in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. With a seven-year, 20,000-person waiting list, Salazar qualified for housing support: a new locally funded, $1,295 monthly subsidy aimed at ending chronic homelessness awaited her. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar, right, gets help carrying belongings from a friend in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, as she packs to move into an apartment after receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
  • In this March 18, 2014 photo, a woman balances herself as she crosses a creek in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Eventually, environmental and social concerns prompt homeless encampments to be cleaned out or cleaned up. San Jose has swept hundreds of encampments in recent years, and many of those homeless now live in the Jungle. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks with a friend's dog as she carries belongings from her tent in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, to move into an apartment after receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks up a staircase to her new apartment on move-in day after living in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, in San Jose, Calif. Salazar will receive a monthly housing subsidy for rent. Jennifer Loving, executive director of the nonprofit housing agency Destination: Home, spearheaded a new, concerted effort in San Jose to house people and keep them housed. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar, right, listens as James Worley, of Abode Services, which assists in placement and subsidizing rent costs, helps her fill out paper work so she to move into an apartment in San Jose, Calif. Salazar was living in the Jungle, believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S., before receiving a monthly housing subsidy for rent. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
  • In this June 13, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar walks with her dog Chico in her apartment on the day she moved in after living in the Jungle, a homeless encampment, in San Jose, Calif. Salazar will receive a monthly housing subsidy for rent. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
  • In this March 18, 2014 photo, man walks along a pathway in the early morning in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. The Jungle is home at times to as many as 350 residents, almost all San Jose locals, and is believed to be the largest homeless encampment in the U.S. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014, AND THEREAFTER- In this March 18, 2014 photo, Maria Esther Salazar, right, gets a visit from her friend Michelle, only first name given, inside of her tent in the Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, Calif. Salazar been arrested dozens of times, convicted of 17 felonies, almost all drug related. She had four children but raised none. Her mother, or foster parents, took them in. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

She’s a disheveled woman, upper teeth gone, heavy bags slung over her shoulders as she nervously urges on two friends shoving her overloaded shopping cart up a dirt slope. Maria Esther Salazar has been either homeless, in jail or squatting at someone else’s house for 30 years.

But today, she’s getting her first apartment.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I’d get a house,” said Salazar. It was overwhelming. “I don’t know anyone there.”

In the Jungle – believed to be the country’s largest homeless encampment – Salazar’s shelter is a gathering place where friends smoke pot, doze, swap stories, argue. Outside, they squat by her cooking fire frying pancakes or warming soup, handouts from Sunday church groups.

It’s easy to forget that the Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs are making millions just miles away. As many as 350 people live in tents, makeshift shacks, caves and tree houses along polluted Coyote Creek, spending their days and nights in various states of mental confusion and intoxication.

Salazar’s journey out began on a cool morning four months earlier in February, when she limped out of her fenced compound and waved a broken cane at a passing homeless support team making their weekly rounds.

“You’re supposed to be helping me,” she shouted, her voice gravelly beyond her 50 years.

When a social worker returned to her desk, she found that in a county with a seven-year, 20,000-person waiting list, Salazar had finally qualified for housing support: a new locally funded, $1,295 monthly subsidy aimed at ending chronic homelessness awaited her.

Now Maria Esther Salazar, a woman with a criminal record, two dogs, no phone and no identification had to find an apartment in one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S., or the subsidy could disappear.

And she wasn’t sure she wanted to leave.

A land of excess

San Jose, the 10th largest city in the U.S., is at the heart of the Silicon Valley, home to Google, Apple, Facebook and many more. Job growth, income and venture capital top the country.

But as tech has boomed after the recession, housing costs have soared.

An average home sells for $1 million, and two-bedroom apartments rent for $2,000. The widening gap between the wealthiest and everyone else is palpable. Freeways back up with commuters who can’t afford to live near their work. Lines form at food pantries. With one of the largest unsheltered populations in the country, homeless people camp on corners, under bridges, along creeks.

Residents of the Jungle are well aware of the world that lies nearby. They call it “going up,” walking the dirt path up to busy Story Road, where minivans of families heading to Happy Hollow Park and Zoo across the street never notice the despair below.

In the Jungle, trails wind through trees and bushes, and there are neighborhoods like Little Saigon, where Vietnamese residents have dug large rooms into steep hillsides and squat by the creek to wash dishes and get water. “Stay Out” signs hang on woven fences beneath a tree house built by an out of work carpenter. Their bathrooms are hand-dug holes or buckets. Mentally ill people burst from tents screaming and punching at unseen terrors. A man staggers by, bleeding from his ear after being hit with a shovel. A pregnant woman calls for help, her legs too swollen to get up. One morning, residents found a corpse in a tent.

A tangled road

“We’re like the scum of the earth,” said Salazar. “We’re like nobody.”

Salazar’s life fell apart at 11 when she was kidnapped and gang raped.

“Now I make a joke about it,” she says softly, smiling and crying at the same time. “I say I’m the president of the man-haters club.”

She’s been arrested dozens of times, convicted of 17 felonies, almost all drug related. She had four children but raised none. Her mother, or foster parents, took them in. One daughter is a nurse, another drives a school bus. She lost track of a son who was adopted while she was in jail. Another, Bobby, is in a small tent nearby strewn with towels, bike rims, a rotting plate of pasta.

She said she never took any welfare, perhaps not realizing her $347 a month in public assistance is just that.

Jennifer Loving, executive director of the nonprofit housing agency Destination: Home, is spearheading a new, concerted effort in San Jose to house people and keep them housed, not just out of compassion, but to save money. A homeless person can cost an estimated $60,000 a year, including trips to the emergency room and jail. The cost of housing someone can be just $16,000 a year.

In a 24-month pilot, they’ve housed 630 people, 76 percent of whom were still in their home a year after moving in. One man, an amputee who had been sleeping in a creek bed, stopped making his near-daily trips to the emergency room.

New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta have seen similar success with Housing First initiatives.

A clean, well-lighted place

On a clear June morning, Salazar clambered into her social worker’s car for a momentous journey. Ten minutes later, but a world away, they pulled into a clean, two-story apartment complex. Salazar checked out the clubhouse, the barbecue areas, a fitness center. Her dog rolled on the lawn. And then a property manager handed her the keys.

“Everything is so white! It’s my favorite color!” she said, bursting into her new home, a carpeted, corner apartment.

Two weeks later, she was settling in. She gave her rambling, trashy, makeshift tent to her son Bobby.

Back at the Jungle, he moved in.

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