The Jungle: San Jose’s largest homeless encampment scheduled to close on Thursday

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

The Jungle: San Jose’s largest homeless encampment scheduled to close on Thursday
By Mark Emmons
Nov 29 2014

SAN JOSE — Over the years, there has been a predictable repetition in attempts to deal with the entrenched homeless encampment called “the Jungle.”

Inhabitants are told to leave. Workers clean up the site. The homeless return. Then, the frustrating cycle is repeated.

But next week, city officials say, will be different.

The encampment alongside Coyote Creek, where between 200 and 300 people live in a trash-strewn tent city, is scheduled to be closed — once and for all. The city is planning to post 72-hour notices at the site on Monday, and work crews under the direction of the city and the Santa Clara Valley Water District will begin permanently dismantling the makeshift shantytown on Thursday.

“We’re going to have to be flexible because of the weather,” said Ray Bramson, the city’s homeless response manager. “But in the last few weeks, the health conditions really have deteriorated down there, and they’re only going to get worse if there is heavy rain. It’s just not a safe site because people essentially are living right along the river bed.”

The eviction marks the culmination of a pilot project in which local government has teamed up with nonprofit agencies to house the homeless before the heavy equipment rolls onto the site, which is near the intersection of Story and Senter roads. Bramson said about 140 people have been placed in subsidized housing so far. Another 50 have housing vouchers and are looking for places to live.

The closure also has been timed to the opening of Santa Clara County’s cold-weather shelters, which creates an additional 275 temporary beds. But the stark reality is many homeless in the Jungle likely will be relocating to other outdoor locations.

“Everybody knows this is coming, so there are a lot more empty campsites down there,” said Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, which is focused on ending chronic homelessness locally. “But there are still a lot of people. It’s going to be tough. It’s not going to be easy on anyone. I don’t know where people are going.”

Robert Aguirre, who has lived in the Jungle for nine months, contends there are just as many people in the encampment as when public officials launched the housing effort. He said the homeless living elsewhere relocated to the Jungle when they heard there were more services available there. But even if you have a voucher, he added, few landlords are accepting them in a tight rental market.

“People just want a place to live,” said Aguirre, 60. “Right now there’s a lot of chaos, stress, tension. People here have nowhere to go, and they know that they’re going to be displaced.”

Officials have been under mounting pressure from neighborhood and environmental groups to take decisive action with the Jungle.

Earlier this year, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife filed a complaint against the city, claiming it had failed to adequately clean up encampments along Coyote Creek. Bramson said the city reached an agreement with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board that a December closure date of the Jungle would be acceptable.


Firefly Space Systems charges full-speed toward low Earth orbit

Firefly Space Systems charges full-speed toward low Earth orbit
True believers build rockets, engines, and space dreams on the Texas prairie.
By Lee Hutchinson
Nov 30 2014

CEDAR PARK, TEXAS—Former SpaceX engineer Tom Markusic has brought Firefly Space Systems to the outskirts of Austin to make rockets and chew bubblegum, and he’s all out of gum. Standing in the vast field on the outskirts of the Texas state capital watching Markusic flitting between clusters of workers welding together test stand equipment, it’s easy to get caught up in the man’s vision of democratizing access to space—a vision of filling that vault of empty sky above our heads with countless twinkling lights.

That’s the genesis of the company name: Firefly Space Systems. It isn’t named after the TV show, as many people commonly assume. Rather, Markusic says the name came to him one evening while sitting on his back porch, watching fireflies dance in the air over his lawn. One day, he believes, that’s what the sky above Earth will look like—filled with spacecraft ferrying people to Mars, in a journey as commonplace as going to the store might be today.

But to get to Mars—really, to get anywhere at all—we’ve first got to make it easy for people and equipment to claw their way up out of Earth’s gravity. After all, as the Heinlein quote on Firefly’s website explains, “When you’re in low Earth orbit, you’re halfway to everywhere.” Making that first hundred miles easy and affordable is what Markusic wants to do.

Firefly is a “new space” company, a term that differentiates it and its contemporaries, like SpaceX and Blue Origin, from “old space” stalwarts like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. “Old space” companies built Apollo and the Space Shuttle and the ISS, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the ossified “old space” model of multi-decade government contract work and hidebound development and accounting practices doesn’t own access to orbit anymore. We’re entering the “new space” era where small agile companies stand on the shoulders of the slow-moving giants and send not just billion-dollar government payloads and multi-PhD-equipped astronauts into orbit, but cheap small payloads and possibly even tourists.

Metal rockets are for suckers

But before Firefly gets around to sending people into orbit—something Markusic says is on the long-term roadmap—the company is first focusing on building its first launch vehicle, the Firefly Alpha (styled as the “Firefly α,” using the Greek letter). The design of that rocket is what made Ars gravitate toward exploring Firefly’s story in the first place: rather than walking down more traditional rocketry paths, the Alpha will be constructed from composites and will use a methane-fueled plugged autogenously pressurized aerospike engine.

That’s a technological mouthful, but it’s not that hard to understand—especially with the benefit of Markusic’s whiteboard explanation. (In addition to being Firefly’s CEO, Markusic was a former director at SpaceX and holds a PhD from Princeton in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.) We’ll take it piece by piece.

First, there’s the composite rocket body. Rather than casting and welding its rockets out of hunks of steel and aluminum and titanium, Firefly plans to weave launch vehicles out of carbon fiber, which will have two distinct advantages. First, the material will be lighter than metal, and weight is a precious commodity in a launch vehicle. Every gram of a rocket’s structure brings with it a cost in fuel. Second, the strength of the composite body lets Firefly use autogenous—that is, self-pressurizing—engines.

Engine pressurization isn’t an immediately obvious requirement for a layperson to grasp, but it’s a requirement nonetheless. To make a rocket burn fuel, you have to get that fuel from the tank to the combustion chamber. Pushing the fuel out of the tank requires exerting pressure that exceeds the pressure in the combustion chamber (the “chamber pressure”). Traditionally, this pressure is exerted by some combination of mechanical pumps pulling on the fuel and also by pumping an inert gas, like helium, into the part of the fuel tank not occupied by fuel. As more fuel is expended, more pressurized gas is pumped in, keeping the fuel under the appropriate amount of pressure. At the end of the burn, you wind up with a tank of pressurized helium (and some residual propellant), which must then be dumped.


Faces of part-time workers: food stamps and multiple low-paid jobs

Faces of part-time workers: food stamps and multiple low-paid jobs
America’s job growth is based on part-time, low-paid work, often in retail, forcing workers to rely on food banks. Here are four of the faces behind Black Friday
By Jana Kasperkevic
Nov 28 2014

Earlier this month, Americans got some good news: the US unemployment rate had fallen to the lowest level since 2008.

At 5.8%, the low unemployment rate has been lauded as a sign of recovery. 

Yet the jobs being created were disposable ones: part-time work, often at low pay, boosted job creation in the food and drink industry and retail. These jobs, while providing employment to those who need it, do little to improve the overall economy. 

As a result, an increasing number of Americans – 800,000 more than last year – have taken on a second or third job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

This is the story of America doing jobs it doesn’t really want, insecure about its wages, relying on food banks and welfare to make it all work.

The problem is growing. In October, about 7 million Americans had part-time jobs but wanted to work full time. Over 2.1 million Americans rely on two part-time jobs to see them through. Another 4 million have one full-time job and one part-time job, a number that increased by 444,000 since last year.

These workers earn minimum or near-minimum wage, bringing home less than $1,000 a month. In 2013, 468,000 retail workers earned minimum wage or lower. According to Pew Research Center, 1.4 million cashiers – the most common part-time job – earn less than $10.10 an hour. Previous interviews with part-time Walmart workers have shown that often they bring anywhere between $200 to $400 home every two weeks. 

As an economic contribution, this is thin. The workers, despite being employed, end up relying on government assistance in the form of food stamps and housing subsidies. And when the food stamps run out, they turn to their communities and the local food banks. 

Their faces remain nearly invisible to lawmakers. To get a good look at the part-time workforce, and how people are making it work, the Guardian spoke to four part-time workers. Here are their stories, edited for length and clarity.


Scalia on Ferguson Grand Jury… 22 years ago

[Note:  This item comes from friend Janos Gereben.  DLH]

From: janosG <>
Subject: Scalia on Ferguson Grand Jury… 22 years ago
Date: November 29, 2014 at 1:32:36 EST

Justice Scalia Explains What Was Wrong With The Ferguson Grand Jury
By Judd Legum
Nov 26 2014

On Monday, Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced that a grand jury had
decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown.
But that decision was the result of a process that turned the purpose of a
grand jury on its head.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1992 Supreme Court case of United States v.
Williams, explained what the role of a grand jury has been for hundreds of

It is the grand jury’s function not “to enquire… upon what
foundation [the charge may be] denied, or otherwise to try the
suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the
charge] is made’by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236
(O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice
§ 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this
country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand
jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory
evidence presented.

This passage was first highlighted by attorney Ian Samuel, a former clerk
to Justice Scalia.

In contrast, McCulloch allowed Wilson to testify for hours before the
grand jury and presented them with every scrap of exculpatory evidence
available. In his press conference, McCulloch said that the grand jury did
not indict because eyewitness testimony that established Wilson was acting
in self-defense was contradicted by other exculpatory evidence. What
McCulloch didn’t say is that he was under no obligation to present such
evidence to the grand jury. The only reason one would present such
evidence is to reduce the chances that the grand jury would indict Darren

Compare Justice Scalia’s description of the role of the grand jury to
what the prosecutors told the Ferguson grand jury before they started
their deliberations:

And you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not
act in lawful self-defense and you must find probable cause to believe
that Darren Wilson did not use lawful force in making an arrest. If you
find those things, which is kind of like finding a negative, you cannot
return an indictment on anything or true bill unless you find both of
those things. Because both are complete defenses to any offense and they
both have been raised in his, in the evidence.


Just Plane Ugly

Just Plane Ugly
By Frank Bruni
Nov 29 2014

THE woman in 27E doesn’t have only one carry-on plus a small bag for a laptop or personal items. She has one carry-on plus a purse the size of a bassinet plus some canvas vessel for all of her electronics plus two different plastic totes for various pillows, blankets and possibly an ottoman and a coffee table. Shuffling down the aisle, she looks more like a Peruvian llama than anything human. She grunts and buckles.

She must have heard the announcement that the flight was full and the plea that everyone not bring too much aboard, because those words blared every 45 seconds. But there’s no selective hearing loss like that of the airline passenger. She reaches her row, predictably discovers that there’s insufficient space under the seat in front of hers and proceeds to colonize the space under the seat in front of yours. You arrive to find that what little legroom you’d counted on is gone. She pretends not to see that you’re glaring at her.

A tiff has erupted in Row 18. The man in Seat C has used the overhead for his jacket, which is lovingly folded there, and is protesting any and all attempts to move it. He has miles. He has status. That’s why he was invited to board the aircraft earlier than almost everybody else, and he’s hellbent on milking that privilege for all that it’s worth.

I’m not describing a flight that I just took. Among my Thanksgiving blessings was an avoidance of the unfriendly skies. I’m describing every other flight that I’ve taken over the last year. I’m describing a flight that many Americans surely suffered through this weekend.

And I’m doing it not simply to rue the horrors of air travel these days, which have been rued aplenty. I’m doing it because there are few better showcases of Americans’ worst impulses, circa 2014, than a 757 bound from New York to Los Angeles or from Sacramento to St. Louis. It’s a mile-high mirror of our talent for pettiness, our tendency toward selfishness, our disconnection from one another and our increasing demarcation of castes. It’s a microcosm at 30,000 to 45,000 feet.

Most of the passengers start out in a bad mood, because there’s no good way to get to the airport. The thrifty, efficient rail links that exist in many Asian and European cities remain uncommon in the United States, a reflection of our arrogant and damnable inattention to infrastructure. Even in recent years, during an economic downturn that cried out for the kinds of big projects that create jobs, we made only meager investments. Our airports and the roads and nonexistent tracks around them show it.

“Our infrastructure is on life support right now,” Ray LaHood, the former transportation secretary, told Steve Kroft in a segment of “60 Minutes” from one week ago. It was titled, fittingly, “Falling Apart.”

Kroft noted that there was “still no consensus on how to solve the problem,” which had grown more severe because of “political paralysis in Washington.”

One of the impediments to consensus is manifest on a plane: There’s little sense of a common good, no rules that everybody follows so that nobody gets a raw deal. Instead there’s an ethic of every passenger for himself or herself. The existence of, and market for, the Knee Defender, that device that prohibits the person in front of you from reclining, says it all.

On second thought, no, this does: Immediately following news coverage of a flight that had to be diverted when two passengers scuffled over a Knee Defender’s use, sales of the device reportedly increased.

Courtesy is dead. The plane is its graveyard. There’s a scrum at the gate and then another scrum in the aisle that defy any of the airline’s attempts at an orderly boarding process. There’s no restraint in the person who keeps smacking the back of your chair; no apology from the parent whose child keeps kicking it; no awareness that certain foods, unwrapped in a tight space, turn one traveler’s lunch into every traveler’s olfactory reality.

And nobody really communicates. Conversation between strangers becomes rarer as gadgets get better, enabling everyone to hunker down with his or her own music and own movies and own video games, to shrink the world to the dimensions of a smartphone’s or tablet’s screen, to disappear into a personalized bubble of ceaseless entertainment and scant enlightenment.


An Inconvenient Thirst: Rain Can’t Save Us From This Drought

[Note:  This item comes from friend Steve Schear.  DLH]

An Inconvenient Thirst: Rain Can’t Save Us From This Drought
By Matt Coker
Nov 12 2014

Looking out the large windows from Jay Famiglietti’s corner office at UC Irvine on a sun-drenched late-spring day, you take in an inviting deep greenbelt and, just beyond that, the green, green grass of Aldrich Park. 

Contrast that with the view from the UCI hydrologist’s new office at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, where Famiglietti is a senior water scientist. It’s also serene and lovely here, but the hills cradling the sprawling facility are brown and tinder-dry heading into the always-gusty fall season. 

“When I go back to Orange County, it is like Disneyland–everything is super-wonderful,” Famiglietti says from behind a small table at a JPL bustling because of a newly launched Mars mission. He has moved into a rental home in Sierra Madre while still holding onto his apartment above UCI. 

“It’s like the county is in a bubble,” he says of OC. “I leave Los Angeles County, and everything is brown. Then I get back to Irvine, and everything is green and lush. There is a little disconnect.”

It’s a disconnect Famiglietti has been talking about for a few years now, not just as it applies to the greenness of Orange versus LA counties, but to all of drought-sapped California, the United States and the world. He is convinced no amount of melting snow and torrential rains can bring California to the levels of fresh water we once enjoyed because as low as the lakes and rivers are, it’s even more dire underground, from where most of our life-sustaining water comes. 

Research Famiglietti has led or participated in is sobering. Should California keep drawing water out of the Central Valley ground at the rate it is now, the massive aquifer will be tapped out in “maybe 50 years,” according to the professor. “With more rains, maybe longer.” Orange County’s imported water, which accounts for about half of what we consume, is in jeopardy thanks to over-pumping. The Colorado River Basin–which supplies water to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado–lost more than 13 trillion gallons of water in less than a decade. Cities and farmers are sucking up a combined 15.6 cubic kilometers of water annually from the Ogallala aquifer, which stretches from South Dakota to Texas. The worst spot on the planet for groundwater depletion is the Upper Ganges, which irrigates crops in both India and Pakistan. Between 2003 and 2009, one of the world’s great river basins–the Tigris-Euphrates, covering a swatch from eastern Turkey to western Iran–lost 144 cubic kilometers of fresh water, about the volume of the Dead Sea. Coastal areas of China, Thailand and Indonesia are dealing with a disastrous double whammy: ground sinking because of overpumping as sea levels rise.

Meanwhile, the global demand for fresh water is only going to grow, based on United Nations projections that say the world’s 7 billion population will rise to 9 billion by 2050. 

That’s why Famiglietti is hellbent on spreading this message: We absolutely have to better manage the groundwater we have left, to do more with less. Perhaps his mission has not yet made him a household name à la Al Gore, but give Famiglietti time. An Inconvenient Thirst, anyone?


America wiped out years of progress. Let’s have ‘the race conversation’ for real this time

America wiped out years of progress. Let’s have ‘the race conversation’ for real this time
By Jeff Chang
Nov 29 2014

Half a century ago, following race riots in Newark that left a nation reeling, the president of the United States appointed a commission – a panel with all the gravitas Lyndon Johnson could give it, and the mission of taking America’s “race conversation” head-on. That body that issued this sharp, devastating conclusion: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” The only way to avoid this fate, the so-called Kerner Commission declared, would be a response “compassionate, massive and sustained” – action that would require of every American “new attitudes, new understanding, and above all, new will”.

For the next two decades, the United States mustered the will to continue the process of desegregation and moved toward closing racial gaps in wealth, income and education. But then, fired by the “culture wars”, it began to undo this consensus for racial justice. Predictably, the gaps got worse, and since the late 1980s, we have seen an attendant rise in resegregation. 

In 1997, after a decade of these wars, President Bill Clinton signaled a possible change – perhaps even a waning of hostilities – when he announced an “Advisory Board on Race” to advise him “on matters involving race and racial reconciliation”. Clinton recast Rodney King’s famous question – “Can we all just get along?” – by asking: “Can we become one America in the 21st century?” 

Although Clinton’s panel convened hundreds of meetings and developed dozens more recommendations, it merely called on Americans “to accept and take pride in defining ourselves as a multi-racial democracy”. The board’s rollout was eclipsed by the Monica Lewinsky affair, because Americans would rather talk about sex and scandal than about race and equality.

Ever since, from Barack Obama’s audacity of hope to the burning despair that accompanied Darren Wilson’s non-indictment this week, the “race conversation” has become less a reality than a rhetorical device. Every time toxic, tragic events – a killing, a fire, a riot – reveal the unequal ways that different Americans experience resegregation and state violence, we talk about having a productive conversation, but we never really have it. 

Instead, we have reverted a half-century in our racial progress. Nationally, public schools are returning to levels of resegregation unseen since Brown v Board of Education. Urban gentrification debates are really about the displacement of people of color, who are often forced to move into aging, overwhelmingly non-white suburbs such as Ferguson, Missouri, or Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman.

And so we go on talking about talking, and mostly we go through the motions. When a celebrity or rich person says something explicitly racist, we make a noisy ritual of shunting them to the wings. We are able to do this because the multiculturalism movement succeeded in changing the rules of civility. It has taught us what not to say to each other, but not what to say next.


DNA Can Survive Reentry from Space

DNA Can Survive Reentry from Space
Genetic blueprints attached to a rocket survived a short spaceflight and later passed on their biological instructions
By Dina Fine Maron
Nov 26 2014

If a cascade of meteors struck Earth billions of years ago, could they have deposited genetic blueprints and forged an indelible link between Earth and another planet?

Perhaps. Although that puzzling question remains unanswered, scientists have uncovered a new clue that suggests it is possible for DNA to withstand the extreme heat and pressure it would encounter when entering our atmosphere from space.

In a new study published today in PLOS ONE, a team of Swiss and German scientists report that they dotted the exterior grooves of a rocket with fragments of DNA to test the genetic material’s stability in space. Surprisingly, they discovered that some of those building blocks of life remained intact during the hostile conditions of the flight and could pass on genetic information even after exiting and reentering the atmosphere during a roughly 13-minute round trip into space.

The findings suggest that if DNA traveled through space on meteorites, it could have conceivably survived, says lead author Oliver Ullrich of the University of Zurich. Moreover, he says, “DNA attached to a spacecraft has the potential to contaminate other celestial bodies, making it difficult to determine whether a life form existed on another planet or was introduced there by spacecraft.”

The rocket test may fall short of representing the faster speed and higher energy of a meteor hurtling into our atmosphere, but it does suggest that even if the outside of a meteor was scorched, genetic material in certain places on the meteor could survive higher temperatures than scientists had previously realized and make it to Earth.  The findings are “a stop on the way to understanding what the limits are for DNA’s survival,” says research scientist Christopher Carr of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not involved with the work but called the results “provocative.” The next steps, he says, would be to further pin down what temperature and pressure would ultimately kill DNA.

To test the effect of the hostile reentry conditions, Ullrich’s team embedded specially designed plasmid DNA — a circular thread of DNA that would not function if it were damaged and lost its loop shape — along the exterior of the craft in grooves and in the indentations of screw heads.  Temperatures on the exterior of the rocket reached as high as 115.4 degrees Celsius during liftoff and 128.3 degrees Celsius during atmospheric reentry (by comparison, water boils at 100 degrees Celsius). Still, the plasmid DNA survived.

The researchers were intrigued to find that the DNA looked intact under a microscope. They also put some of the samples to work to see if the DNA remained functionally capable of passing on genetic instructions. The team exposed Escherichia coli bacteria to the space-traveling DNA. If the plasmid DNA were intact — as it proved to be — the E. coli would be able to take up the DNA, and that piece of genetic code would make the bacteria resistant to antibiotics. According to Ullrich, the researchers were surprised to find that the DNA passed on its information and the E. coli became drug resistant. The findings are “definitely exciting,” Carr says.


Music publishers finally pull the trigger, sue an ISP over piracy

Music publishers finally pull the trigger, sue an ISP over piracy
Lawsuit says Cox blew off copyright notices from two Rightscorp clients.
By Joe Mullin
Nov 28 2014

BMG Rights Management and Round Hill Music have sued Cox Communications for copyright infringement, arguing that the Internet service provider doesn’t do enough to punish those who download music illegally.

Both BMG and Round Hill are clients of Rightscorp, a copyright enforcement agent whose business is based on threatening ISPs with a high-stakes lawsuit if they don’t forward settlement notices to users that Rightscorp believes are “repeat infringers” of copyright.

There’s little precedent for a lawsuit trying to hold an ISP responsible for users engaged in piracy. There’s also no doubt Cox, which declined to comment for this story, will fight back hard. If a judge finds Cox liable for the actions of users on its network, it will have major implications for the company and the whole cable industry. It’s one thing to terminate an account on YouTube, but cable subscribers can pay well over $100 per month—and BMG and Round Hill claim that they’ve notified Cox about 200,000 repeat infringers on its network.

In their complaint (PDF), the music publishers describe the Cox network as an out-of-control den of piracy. “Today, BitTorrent systems are like the old P2P systems on steroids,” BMG lawyers write. “Despite its published policy to the contrary, Cox’s actual policy is to refuse to suspend, terminate, or otherwise penalize subscriber accounts that repeatedly commit copyright infringement through its network in any meaningful numbers.”

Cox has ignored “overwhelming evidence,” and the complaint lists a few examples. A “Cox subscriber account having had IP address at the time of the infringement, believed to be located in Fairfax, Virginia, was used to infringe twenty-four particular copyrighted works 1,586 times since December 9, 2013,” they note. “Cox subscriber having IP address engaged in 39,432 acts of copyright infringement over 189 days.”

BMG and Round Hill, through Rightscorp, told Cox about all these infringements, but to no avail. The complaint states that Cox “actually has taken measures to avoid and stop receiving those notifications,” suggesting the ISP was basically treating e-mails from Rightscorp like spam.

Who’s a repeat infringer?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, does require ISPs to have a policy to terminate “repeat infringers,” but there’s not a lot of clarity as to exactly what that means.

Does someone become a “repeat infringer” when a judge rules they have repeatedly violated copyrights? If so, the music publishers and Rightscorp have many more hoops to jump through before they have any hope of beating Cox in court. Conversely, if a judge believes Rightscorp’s notifications are enough to find a user is a repeat infringer, then Cox could be in trouble.


HOTEL 22: The Dark Side Of Silicon Valley

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

HOTEL 22: The Dark Side Of Silicon Valley
Nov 26 2014

Jimmy hands $2 worth of dimes to the conductor and finds a seat at the back of the bus.

He settles himself in for what is going to be a long night – taking off his scuffed leather shoes and resting his head against a window opaque with condensation.

Jimmy, 47, has had the same routine for the last three years since losing his job as a chef at Microsoft.

He gets on the bus at midnight and rides the same 35-mile journey between San Jose and Palo Alto, California, until sunrise. He can spend up to $8 (£5) a night just trying to keep warm and off the streets – money he can ill afford.

The 22 bus is the only route that runs 24 hours in Silicon Valley and it has become something of an unofficial shelter for the homeless.

They call it Hotel 22.

This small pocket of The Golden State has become the most extreme example in the US of the growing schism between the haves and have nots.

Santa Clara – the county which encompasses Silicon Valley – has the highest percentage of homeless in America, according to the latest Department of Housing report.

Yet it also has the nation’s highest average household income and some of the most expensive homes in the country – all down to the high-tech economy on its doorstep.

Silicon Valley is enjoying the most sustained period of wealth creation in history, but the area is crippled by income disparity. Where once a robust middle-class thrived, there exists only the super-rich and the extreme poor.

The 22 bus drives past Jimmy’s old employer Microsoft, as well as the headquarters of Google, Facebook and Apple.

On our journey, we pass a “Google bus” going in the opposite direction towards San Francisco. Employees are ferried to and from work in their own private blacked-out coaches dubbed “Gbuses”, which have themselves come to be a symbol of the inequality.

“It’s a tale of two cities,” Jimmy says. “At least that’s the poetic way people describe what’s going on here.

“What these techies don’t realise though is that we’re no different to them – they’re just one misstep, one paycheck away from being us.”

Jimmy, who moved from Chicago to California in the early 1990s for work, is wearing a slightly mottled suit and tie, as he does most days, in the hope it will help him find a job. He sends off a dozen applications a day from the local library, but he rarely even hears back.

He keeps a length of rope wrapped round his ankle, hidden under his trouser leg, “just in case one day I decide I’ve had enough.”

According to the most recent census data, as many as 20,000 people will experience homelessness in the county this year.

Those who are not sleeping on the streets here are sleeping in what is known as The Jungle – the largest homeless encampment in the US. Hundreds of makeshift tents and treehouses go on for miles in a lawless sprawl.

Ray Bramson, the City of San Jose’s homelessness response manager, says: “There’s 5,000 sleeping rough on any given night – we just can’t deal with that.”

Over the last few years rent in the area has skyrocketed, in some cases up to 300% of the national average.