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Continued: Homeless in the heart of booming Silicon Valley, a woman seeks to escape the Jungle

  • Article by: MARTHA MENDOZA , Associated Press
  • Last update: July 5, 2014 - 11:20 AM

She's never worked, she says. "Not a day in my life. Never."

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

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For almost two years of drought, the Jungle was virtually rain-free. But that changed in March when heavy storms rolled in one night.

One man fell into the creek and had to be rescued by firefighters. Mud was everywhere, in tents, cooking pots, blankets and clothes. By sunrise, as the first rains tapered, shovels came out and the place was buzzing with people digging trenches to drain tent floors. One man carried a post-hole digger from campsite to campsite, offering services. A woman named Heidi pulled a Boy Scout handbook out of her backpack and realized she needed a tent pole to make a peak, not a valley, with her roof.

Heidi struggled for hours trying to dig a drainage ditch.

"I'm working like a Hebrew slave," she says, panting as she pauses to chat. "This is the United States of America and we should be helping people a whole lot better than what we're doing."

Salazar's tent was water tight, but she isn't happy amid the omnipresent trash: torn lingerie, a half-eaten corn cob, a sticky Starbucks cup, molding bread, a dented deodorant aerosol can.

"I'll be glad to get out of this hell," she says. "That was a very rough night."

Window installer Juan Gonzalez, who moved into the Jungle two weeks earlier, takes advantage of the wet soil to cut a staircase into the hillside. He builds banisters with castoff lumber, and stacks pallets on a platform for his tent.

"It's not so bad," he says in Spanish. "Everyone takes care of everyone."

A team of evangelists arrives, passing out bottles of water and plastic bags.

A sopping wet, powerfully built man nicknamed "D'' who lives alone on a steep embankment ties a rope to climb up the slick mud.

"Any spot is a good spot as long as you live right," he says, cooking a mixture of potato chips, Spam, a burrito end and a handful of mushrooms over a fire burning in a hole-punched oil can. His hair is shaved to a diamond point; shell-studded arm bands and a golden rope over his shoulders make him look like a ninja. His socks are drenched. He has no shoes.

"I just don't like society and everything we are becoming," he rambles, talking about power and energy, God and humanity. "I will not go up. And I don't need shoes."

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When it comes to solving homelessness, says Jennifer Loving, "We have completely failed."

Growing up, Loving's family ran a church in Venice Beach Calif., which served as a shelter for anyone who needed a place to stay; she's dedicated her life to housing homeless people. For years she tried the traditional model — move someone into a shelter, then transitional housing, and then, if they're sober and mentally stable, house them.

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