Resilience & Mercy at the Margins

Seeing Homelessness and Ministry in Silicon Valley Homeless Encampments

Median household income in San Jose, California, the so-called Capital of Silicon Valley, is $96,662 a year, with the “middle class income” range cresting at $193,324, according to the finance website, GoBankingRates. For more than 6,000 people in the epicenter of high tech affluence, however, the abundance one sees almost everywhere in the region—twin Teslas in the driveways of “modest” million-plus-dollar homes, upscale malls and shopping centers in every direction, private jets lined up in rows at the local airport—everyday life is not the stuff of sitcom innovation hilarity. For aged-out data entry workers, families that didn’t bounce back from the 2008 tech crash, veterans of every ill-conceived U.S. war from Vietnam to Afghanistan, people with mental health and addiction issues, as well as immigrants and refugees who never quite landed once they made it to America, the edges of California’s golden valley of dreams offer the only safe shelter.

The crisis has only grown as Google begins development on a $385 million investment in dozens of parcels of land in downtown San Jose. Far beyond the envisioned Google Transit Village—Googleville, to locals—a very different Silicon Valley emerges. In shaggy woodlands behind high-end golf courses, along the banks of rivers, in gullies along the area’s vast network of highways and railroad tracks, homeless people gather for shelter, safety, and community—that is, until county and city workers come to doze down their encampments. Between these abrupt displacements, Pastor Scott Wagers, of CHAM Deliverance Ministries, and volunteers from local congregations share food, water, clothing, conversation, and prayer with people living in the Silicon Valley’s widely distributed encampments. We invited narrative photographer Émilio Bañuelos to visit encampments, where he met people experiencing homelessness and those offering ministries of care and compassion. His powerful images share a story of resilience and mercy at the margins that we cannot ignore. ~Editor


Volunteers make their way to Roosevelt Park every Sunday to provide food, water, clothing, and blankets for homeless residents living in an encampment on the banks of a creek. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Pastor Scott Wagers, who has been working "on the front lines of urban ministry" for 25 years, coordinates volunteers as they prepare to share food with residents of a homeless encampment located behind a county park. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Pastor Scott Wagers, of CHAM Deliverance Ministries, leads in prayer before eating with he Roosevelt Park homeless community. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Volunteers take turns weekly, cooking meals for members of a homeless encampment in East San Jose. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Residents of the Roosevelt Park encampment in East San Jose gather on Sundays to pray and receive food, clothing and blankets brought to them by volunteers coordinated by Pastor Scott Wagers and his urban ministry. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

The Roosevelt Park encampment, East San Jose, CA. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Edwin Vasquez and his wife were living in their truck until it was impounded. After moving to the Roosevelt Park encampment, he was selected “manager” of the encampment, responsible for keeping the peace and enforcing their rules amongst the residents.

In recent years, people living in motor homes have been lining neighborhood streets, prompting some Bay Area cities to propose legal restrictions. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Andrea, a Roosevelt Park encampment resident. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Homeless camp and possessions with excavator on break from new construction. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Pastor Raquel Ordonez, of Exodus to Serenity Ministries, leads protestors in prayer as they prepare to enter City Hall to voice their concerns over Google’s development plans in San Jose. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Protesters make their way, chanting through San Jose City Hall in opposition to Google’s development plans. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Homeless encampments can be seen throughout the city, with many lining the railroad tracks. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

Xavier and his dog, Gigi, spent much of their time in a public park with access to restrooms and showers. (E. Bañuelos, 2019. All rights reserved.)

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CHAM Deliverance Ministries, Emilio Bañuelos, Google, Googleville, Homeless, Homelessness, Scott Wagers, Silicon Valley

Emilio Bañuelos

Emilio Bañuelos is a photographer and Arts Educator in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has conducted classes and workshops for the Academy of Art University, San Jose Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Jewish Museum, University of California Santa Cruz-Extension, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Santa Clara University, and through Rayko Photo Center. Learn more at www.embaphoto.com.


All photos by Émilio Bañuelos, 2019. Used by permission. All rights reserved.