After months of complaints, Cupertino homeless camp to get toilet


CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 26: A homeless encampment along Wolfe Road next to Vallco in Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. In the background is the Hyatt House Hotel. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

CUPERTINO — After a handful of homeless residents have spent months in camps along Wolfe Road without bathrooms or running water in the midst of a pandemic, city officials said they’re taking steps this week to provide basic hygiene services.

The city will start regular trash pick-up there this week, and is working on installing a portable toilet and hand-washing station at the site, City Manager Deborah Feng told council members Tuesday night, as she gave an update on the city’s COVID-19 response. Details about the toilet and hand-washing station had not been finalized — Feng said the city is working with a partner on the project, but wouldn’t say who the partner is. But Feng hopes to have both installed by the end of the week.

“We think this is the best way to keep it sanitary and clean for the duration of the shelter in place,” she said.

The news came a day after the Bay Area News Group published an article about the encampments, which formed earlier this year and marked the first time in recent memory that Cupertino has had a visible homelessness problem. The camps — a cluster of fewer than a dozen tents next to the Vallco construction site, and one make-shift shelter across from the Apple campus — were created by residents who had previously been living out-of-sight along Cupertino’s highway on and off-ramps and creek beds. Since then, the city and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office have been flooded with complaints about the new, more high-profile camps.

Feng’s announcement signals an about-face by the city. Last week, a city representative told this news organization there was no room to set up portable bathrooms and handwashing stations at the camps.

But Feng said she changed her mind after urging from a local resident — Better Cupertino member Jim Moore.

“I had taken an initial look at it and didn’t think it was going to fit,” she said. “But you know, he’s looked at it, he took pictures and sent them, other people looked at it at his urging, and we are moving ahead.”

Walter Adam Becker, who lives at the Vallco encampment, said a sheriff’s office deputy stopped by to tell residents they’d be getting a bathroom.

“I’m grateful that they want to help,” 43-year-old Becker wrote in a text message to this news organization. “Even through the riots. I appreciate them and respect it.”

CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 26: Walter Adam Becker talks to the Mercury News at a homeless encampment along Wolfe Road next to Vallco in Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

Several Cupertino residents called into the virtual council meeting Tuesday to express concerns about the encampments. Many referenced the Bay Area News Group article.

Peggy Griffin said she’s worried about hygiene at the camps.

“Give them bathrooms and places to wash their hands,” she said. “These are real people, and they need them. And if they don’t have them, they’re going to use something else. And the stores aren’t open, so the options are not pleasant.”

City officials and the sheriff’s office have said they will not disband the Wolfe Road camps while the coronavirus shelter-in-place order is in effect — per federal health guidelines. But once the order lifts, they plan to clear the tents from the sidewalk.

Because Cupertino has no homeless shelters, nor has the city set up emergency COVID-19 housing, it’s unclear what will happen to residents when that time comes.

Councilman Rod Sinks urged his colleagues to think about starting the process of building a short-term homeless shelter, as well as longer-term housing.

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