Just two weeks ago I heard about The Jungle for the first time. Two local newspaper reports from 2013 call it the largest homeless encampment in America, home to nearly 200 people.
One report notes it is lies within walking distance of downtown San Jose and the headquarters of Adobe Systems. The report showed a graphic of the Jungle and more than a dozen other places homeless people stay, scattered all around Silicon Valley, near the world headquarters of tech giants such as Apple, Intel, and Google.
One publication created this map to some of Silicon Valley's tech companies and homeless encampments.
(Source: Business Insider)
Growing up in the Midwest, the presence of many homeless people in California made a strong impression on me in the early 1980s, the first time I visited San Francisco. Hearing about the Jungle revived that early shock.
So I have been spending some time reading online reports and following where that leads me. That's how I discovered Silicon Valley DeBug, a social justice organization I hope to visit soon.
I read about an initiative in the San Jose area for a "living wage." The people behind the effort sponsored a study, which notes as few as 1% and 3% of the employees at many of Silicon Valley's top tech firms are black or Hispanic, respectively. However, the employees of contractor companies that provide the security guards, janitors, landscapers, and food service people at these companies are made up predominantly of people of color.
These contract workers make less than $14 an hour. "A janitor working full-time at that wage would have to use his or her entire monthly income plus working overtime just to pay the rent on an average apartment in Santa Clara County," the study states.
As a San Jose resident living in a comfortable one-bedroom apartment, I know I have quite a deal paying $1,100 a month. Back in my native Kalamazoo, Mich., you could rent two -- maybe three apartments -- for the same price.
The study calls for tech companies to negotiate a $5/hour raise for these estimated 10,000 workers. They have the power to do that, it says, because "tech companies negotiate, set prices for and sign every contract with the middleman companies."
I'm still absorbing the impact of the poverty and disenfranchisement all around my Silicon Valley home. Perhaps it's news to you, too. Or perhaps you have long been aware of this reality and have your own thoughts about it.
In any case, in the aftermath of Labor Day, I'd love to hear your thoughts about the state of prosperity and poverty and social justice in and around the tech industry in Silicon Valley or wherever you live.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times