Ron worked in a biotechnology lab before becoming homeless six years ago. Photos by Talia Herman for OneZero

Homeless in the Shadow of Apple’s $5 Billion Campus

A group of ex-tech workers, gig employees, and locals priced out of the housing market are fighting for affordable housing in Silicon Valley

AtAt the corner of East Homestead and North Wolfe Road in Cupertino, California, stands a large oak tree planted by one of the most successful companies in history — Apple. The tree is a landmark at the entrance to Apple Park, the company’s $5 billion spaceship-of-a-campus, which surrounds a circular headquarters set in an entire city block, not unlike the home button in the rectangle of an early-model iPhone. At least three or four stories tall, the oak is one of the larger specimens among the 9,000 trees planted in this 175-acre Garden of Eden. There are 37 varieties of fruit: plums, apricots, persimmons, cherries, and of course, apples.

Outsiders are not allowed in the 2.8 million-square-foot steel building at the center of campus, which is protected by a tight wall of vertical beams reminiscent of the barrier at the U.S.-Mexico border. Inside, the office furniture, according to an employee who leaked photos on Instagram, includes “custom-made high-grade leather seats from Louis Vuitton.”

As for the gnarled old oak, it likely cost the company six figures to pluck it from its native home and move it to the site by truck and crane. Apple is a $2 trillion enterprise, but the sums lavished on the company’s landscaping — total cost: $85 million — cast a harsh light on the living conditions of the neighbors just a stone’s throw away.

If you walked south down Wolfe Road in early 2020, past the hummocky meadows of sedge, penstemon, and yarrow — the “ecologically rich oak savanna” that Steve Jobs envisioned for Apple Park — you would see another side of Silicon Valley. Just half a block from Apple’s campus, tents and tarp homes lined the sidewalk in front of The Hamptons apartment complex. A half-block further, more tarp structures peeked from the bushes along the I-280 off-ramp. These scattered abodes were the satellites of the main Wolfe Camp, which sits another block south, in front of a Hyatt hotel.

The homeless encampment along Wolfe Road in Cupertino, California, on May 26, 2020. The Apple campus is around the corner. Nhat V. Meyer/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

This homeless community outside of Apple’s campus, a loose-knit group of 15 to 20 individuals, sprang up in late February, just weeks before the pandemic hit. Cupertino is one of the wealthiest communities in the wealthiest region of the country. Median household income is more than $150,000. Tired of being evicted from other encampments in town, a group of homeless individuals pitched their tents here, knowing that such a conspicuous location would politicize their plight. With the liberally minded Apple employees commuting along the busy thoroughfare, perhaps the sheriff would think twice before evicting them again.

Some of the structures in this block-long camp were elaborate, multiroom combinations of camping tents and blue tarps held together with rope and bungee cords with piles of wet clothing, busted furniture, and greasy camp stoves scattered between them. The dwellings, lined up on a narrow strip of earth along the curb, formed a modest privacy screen for the sidewalk, which served as a collective living room.

That’s where, in October of last year, I found Ron sitting on the ground, barefoot and smiling, with a few of his friends. A tall and stout 43-year old who sports a stylish jacket and a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard, Ron once worked as a researcher in a biotech lab. His name appeared on academic papers with titles like, “Proteomic Analysis Highlights the Role of Detoxification Pathways in Increased Tolerance to Huanglongbing Disease.” But these days he spends most of his time scavenging for saleable items in the dumpsters of the surrounding condos and office parks. (Ron is a pseudonym, as are all the names of homeless people mentioned in this story.)

Ron in his shelter in Davis, California, February 27, 2021.

Ron was a resident of Wolfe Camp, and his neighbors included other Silicon Valley workers who had fallen on hard times. I met a former sales rep at Infineon with pink hair and red toenails who reminisced to me about company-sponsored trips to Napa she took before she was laid off on the eve of the Great Recession. Another resident had worked as a Google shuttle driver before being laid off at the outset of the pandemic. Someone had spray-painted “be happy, life is a gift” on the wall of their tarp home. A handmade sign provided the URL for the group’s GoFundMe page.

The folks at Wolfe Camp were accustomed to strangers like me wandering into their community. During one of my visits, an older couple attempted to bribe residents to say, “I love Jesus,” with the promise of food.

“Fuck god,” a resident yelled in response. “God hasn’t done shit for me.”

After the tents went up, local papers ran a slew of stories on the camp, and the Nextdoor chatrooms lit up with debate. Concerned citizens stopped by with armloads of groceries and hygiene supplies, curious to meet their neighbors.

Others were less welcoming, hurling objects from their cars as they passed, along with rants and obscenities. Someone spray-painted “leave” on the armchair of a camper’s outdoor den. It’s unclear where the residents of Wolfe Camp would have gone. Cupertino does not have a homeless shelter and has virtually no subsidized housing. This city of 60,000 residents has dedicated 142 units of below-market-rate rentals, the cheapest of which are available to households making up to $55,300 annually — not exactly the profile of the folks camping on Wolfe Road. Families making up to $139,100 are eligible for the largest affordable housing units. Rents range from $1,250 to $1,800.

In the first month after the camp sprang up, local authorities were flooded with complaints. “They’re certainly not used to seeing something like this in Cupertino,” Captain Ricardo Urena of the Cupertino sheriff’s office told the Mercury News in late spring. “We want to give people the help that they need, and make our residents happy by cleaning up the area.”

Ron was clear about how this all happened, how one of the wealthiest corners of the planet had also become home to a growing homeless population: “greed.” Ron, who became homeless after lifelong mental health challenges came to a head in the midst of a rocky divorce, was born one town over in the wealthy enclave of Los Altos. “Everyone I grew up with was filthy rich,” he said.

For a month last fall, I visited the camp nearly every day. Its residents had a message — “we’re human beings too,” is how Steve, a sprite-like man in his fifties, put it. Steve sees Wolfe Camp as a strategically located mirror, reflecting not just the appalling wealth disparity in the region, but the tech industry’s contribution to it. “Even if I had three jobs, I still couldn’t afford the rent,” he said.

Trey, a clean-cut Black man in his early thirties who lived at Wolfe camp, said he was surprised that the camp’s location had not spurred Apple to address their community. “You would think they would have reached out, considering we’re literally right next door,” he told me over lunch one day. “They’re the first company in the world to be worth over a trillion dollars. But have they done a single thing to help us? Lift a finger? Come ask us anything? No. All they see is a nuisance.”

OOver the last two decades, a horde of high-paid techies and restrictive housing policies have driven up real estate prices in Silicon Valley to dizzying heights. It is nearly impossible for the janitors, cafeteria servers, shuttle drivers, and other low-wage workers who kept tech campuses running before the pandemic to afford housing within an hour’s drive of the Valley.

Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Cupertino was around $4,000 until the pandemic cooled the market last year. Median home prices in the city are well north of $2 million, and still rising. Housing costs in the region are similar. In San Francisco and San Jose, the cities that bookend Silicon Valley, rents went up 70% and 74%, respectively, between 2010 and 2019, though they’ve dropped 35% in the wake of the pandemic.

Steve, the scion of a wealthy Cupertino family, told me that in 1962 he was baptized in the church across the street from what is now the Apple campus. He grew up just a couple blocks away and he remembers when the land under the Apple campus was still a prune farm, the area was so thick with orchards that it was known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight. The plot was purchased by Hewlett-Packard, which then sold it to Apple. Steve grew up playing along Calabazas Creek, which cuts through the property and he recalled the area’s willow trees and the jackrabbits that ran there when he was a child. Today, Calabazas Creek is a concrete-lined channel, and Steve often pitches his tent along its hard banks.

“You can’t imagine what this place used to look like,” Steve said over coffee at Main Street Cupertino, a master-planned development next to the camp that opened around the same time as the Apple campus. “It was beautiful.”

With its native plants and orchards, Apple hoped to recreate a bit of the Valley of Heart’s Delight with Apple Park — at least for its employees.

When Steve Jobs presented the $5 billion campus design to Cupertino’s city council in 2011, they asked what the company would contribute toward improving the quality of life for surrounding residents. “See, I’m a simpleton, and I’ve always had this view that we pay taxes, and the city should do those things,” Jobs reportedly said. “As you know, we’re the largest taxpayer in Cupertino, so we’d like to continue to stay here and pay taxes.”

The company ultimately contributed $5.85 million to the city’s affordable housing fund as part of the deal, which went toward a 19-unit affordable housing complex — the only such units built in Cupertino in recent years — including six units designated for homeless veterans. In 2019, they pledged an additional $2.5 billion to help address housing issues across the state, of which $400 million has been allocated thus far, largely to fund projects serving the Silicon Valley homeless population. (Facebook and Google have each pledged $1 billion to similar initiatives.)

Apple declined interview requests for the story, but a spokeswoman noted that the company also donates fruit from its orchards to a local food pantry.

(L) Jason is a sound engineer, musician, and hip-hop dancer who makes a mean plate of Korean ribs (his mother's recipe). Like many members of the camp, he earned money off of the waste of Silicon Valley workers, scavenging electronics, clothes, and other goods from nearby condo dumpsters and selling them online. (R) James, who grew up in San Diego, California, first experienced homelessness at the age of 10 when his father was transferred to a military base in North Carolina and left his son to sleep in the car. March 23, 2021.

Deborah Feng, Cupertino’s city manager, is the city’s point person on issues of homelessness. She told OneZero that Apple does not engage with city staff around homelessness and housing — “ever.” Her frustration at the company’s approach was evident when we talked in November. “They haven’t come to me with a solution. I’m really open,” said Feng.

Having worked in public service throughout the Valley, she wasn’t entirely surprised. “Google’s not any different,” she said.

Housing prices are not merely a question of supply and demand, but they’re also a function of local politics. Like many Silicon Valley jurisdictions, Cupertino’s city council is dominated by NIMBYs — not-in-my-backyard types, who oppose new construction in their communities — and has discouraged the construction of apartments more than a few stories tall, which are desperately needed to house workers.

At his State of the City address in 2019, Mayor Steven Scharf, a former engineer at Intel and Dell, said that Cupertino should build a wall around itself and make San Jose, a much larger city with large low-income communities, pay for it. Scharf said he was joking, but added that he was serious about keeping the high-density development that characterizes San Jose from spilling into the city’s leafy streets.

SSpring 2020 was a heady time at Wolfe Camp. Many residents had spent years concealing their presence in the neighborhood, and it was liberating to put shame aside and face their fellow Cupertinians. The group also sensed that it had political leverage. In those first few months, Ron dumpster-dived some whiteboards and began facilitating informal meetings for the campers to decide how best to exercise it.

Local residents and charities had sent ample food and clothing, but the camp wanted more than just token gestures or vague plans. Instead, the group wanted immediate and concrete action. They decided to call for an end to the constant evictions, and a pathway to affordable housing. With the affluence that flows in Cupertino, surely a few million could be found to help get the local homeless community back on its feet.

Throughout spring, the campers held productive conversations with advocacy groups, the sheriff’s office, local politicians, and city officials, who all professed a willingness to help. Feng and other staff spent much of 2020 collaborating with county officials to develop a “plan to end homelessness.” “I feel like it’s our responsibility to deal with this, to help people get where they need to go,” Feng told me.

“There’s so much money here,” said Trey, who has worked several short-term jobs while living in his tent, including for the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters and as a holiday season deliveryman at UPS. “Give us an opportunity — six months in a stable environment with a roof over our heads, the opportunity to wake up in a bed, take a shower, and go to work.” Trey once had a successful career in sales (phones, cars, insurance), and for a time made a six-figure salary. “I’ve got skills,” he told me. “It’s just about getting an opportunity to use them.”

Trey, who was known in the camp for his multicourse meals (all prepared on a camp stove), grew up in Silicon Valley, where he once earned a six-figure salary in sales. March 23, 2021.

In early 2020, the city council authorized grants totaling over $100,000 to West Valley Community Services, a local nonprofit that provides homeless services and rental assistance. The city also established a $200,000 fund to assist residents facing eviction as a result of the pandemic. The city made an effort to address the Wolfe Camp community, but mostly, it seemed, they wanted the camp gone.

An initial city plan to remove the camp was thwarted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommending that municipalities cease homeless removals during the pandemic as a measure to prevent virus transmission.

Then, in June, a notice went up next to the camp announcing that the sidewalk needed to be torn out as part of a construction project on the property next door to the nearby Hyatt. The campers were again told they needed to move, under the pretense that it would not be safe for them to remain during the construction. Around this time Jim Moore, a retired IBM marketing executive who’d lived in Cupertino for 45 years, began frequenting the camp and advocating on the campers’ behalf. Moore, with the help of a few friends, looked into the construction permit and determined that it actually pertained to the sidewalk on the other side of Wolfe Road. “The city said they had to vacate because they’d given the property owner permission to work there,” Moore told me. “Which turned out to be completely and utterly false.”

That same month, Moore offered to pay for a portable toilet and hand-washing station to be installed and maintained at the camp. But city officials said there wasn’t room and that it wouldn’t be safe for the pump trucks to park there. He compiled photos and other documentation to prove that there was indeed room. “There was a lot of pushback with no evidence to support it,” said Moore. After several weeks of pressure, the city relented, installing the equipment on its own dime, along with trash bins that were emptied weekly by the sanitation department.

The camp started to feel a little more permanent. Despite the goodwill of Feng and her colleagues, a schism began to grow between the city and the campers and their advocates. There was “lots of misinformation, lies, and stonewalling from the city,” said Moore.

Cupertinians may have only recently awakened to the homeless population living in their midst, but in other parts of the Valley, the issue has long been more visible. In San Francisco, 40 miles north, a debate rages about how much the tech companies are to blame for a surge in homelessness, whether they have a responsibility to do something about it, and what exactly should be done.

On one side is the city’s small but powerful libertarian faction. “The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city,” wrote Justin Keller, the founder of Commando.io, in a widely derided open letter in 2016. “I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.” On the other side of the debate is the city’s left-wing intelligentsia. It has become fashionable within certain billionaire circles to shower affordable housing projects with cash. In 2019, Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, announced a $30 million donation to fund research into the problem.

TThus far, neither meritocratic approaches nor deep-pocketed CEOs have produced any tangible improvement in California’s housing crisis. In the three counties that comprise Silicon Valley (Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Francisco), federally mandated estimates of the homeless population shot up an average of 23% between 2017 and 2019. But even that is likely a significant undercount. In Cupertino, the federal count showed 159 homeless individuals in 2019, but multiple members of Wolfe Camp told me the numbers were several times higher.

The former site of the Wolfe Road homeless encampment on March 23, 2021.

Tech campuses and homeless communities sit side by side across Silicon Valley. Across the street from the Facebook headquarters near East Palo Alto is a 60-acre nature preserve, home to several endangered species, including the salt marsh harvest mouse and Ridgway’s rail, a chicken-sized bird with a long, pointy beak and special glands that allow it to drink salt water. It is also home to dozens of people who have been living on this land in a homeless encampment for years.

Local authorities have attempted to remove the preserve’s homeless camps because their “presence is compromising the health of the estuary,” according to a report in Palo Alto Weekly, citing their latrines and trash heaps as sources of water pollution. “The welfare of wildlife and the health of Baylands ecosystems is pitted against the very real human needs of people,” the paper opined.

In 2017, the Ravenswood City School District, which serves the predominantly Black and Latino communities near the Facebook campus, found that 42% of its students were homeless. This figure included not just children living on the streets, but those living in motels, shuffling between relative’s homes, or camping in cars and RVs. East Palo Alto was one of the last cities in the Valley to start gentrifying. Pastor Paul Bains, who was born and raised in this historically African American community, told me that these days, even techies with $200,000 salaries struggle to afford a home. “We have a crisis here that impacts you regardless of your ethnicity or race,” he said. “But it’s exacerbated by the systems that have kept people of color from generating wealth.”

Bains is the founder of WeHOPE (We Help Other People Excel), one of the largest homeless services organizations in the Valley, which has recently hatched a plan to build affordable housing at scale. The program is not intended for the kind of people making $200,000, who may qualify for affordable housing programs in some of the Valley’s most expensive jurisdictions, but for low-wage workers. By the end of the year, Bains aims to have a factory up and running in East Palo Alto to produce modular homes that he says can be built 30% to 60% cheaper, and 30% to 40% faster, than conventional construction. WeHOPE’s factory for working-class homes, which has the financial backing of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic organization started by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “is going to be a game-changer,” he said.

In the meantime, those who can no longer afford rent are moving into cars, camper vans, and RVs, a form of homelessness that has exploded in recent years.

Adam grew up in Cupertino, where his mother worked for a semiconductor company and his father worked in construction. The family lost their house after his father died in a car crash; a stint in prison was a further setback, and Adam has been homeless ever since. March 23, 2021.

Many of these vehicles are parked prominently around Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. The city even began opening underutilized parking lots to vehicle dwellers last year. Known as the Lots of Love program, the idea is to address the complaints of homeowners unhappy about the Winnebagos and Econolines lining the streets, while providing their occupants a place to sleep without fear of police knocking on the door at three in the morning.

When I visited one of the Lots of Love on a chilly evening last November, I was surprised at the income diversity of the residents. There, in a bleak sea of asphalt between the Shoreline Amphitheatre and Google’s newest office park, I met an Uber driver, a tile installer, and the owner of a thriving construction business with 20 employees, who said he’d moved into an RV after blowing through his life savings to put his daughter through college.

I also met Rouel, a tall Venezuelan man who recently retired from Lockheed, where he’d worked as a research scientist studying “thin-film, single-crystal semiconductors,” he said. But his pension, enviable by most standards, was not enough to retire in the area. Rather than leave the place where he’d made his life for decades, he’d opted for a home on wheels.

Rouel sees his new lifestyle as the future of Valley housing. He imagines vast new neighborhoods springing up across the enormous parking lots that pock the industrial zones along the South Bay waterfront. These would be like urban campgrounds, he said, with areas designated for both tents and vehicles; electricity, water, and garbage collection would be provided by the local municipalities. In a letter he sent to Mountain View city councilors, Rouel wrote that the Valley’s growing “homeless class” necessitates this “new type of neighborhood.” Those who “think this is temporary,” he concluded, “may be in denial.”

Meanwhile, the Valley’s housed class has signaled that they won’t tolerate the growing masses living on the street. When I came back to my apartment after visiting Lots of Love, I flipped on the news. One segment about new Mountain View legislation caught my eye: Voters had passed, with a 57% margin, a measure to further tighten rules on overnight parking, effectively banning RVs from the vast majority of the city’s streets.

AA s summer slid into fall, and the pandemic wore on, the vibe in Wolfe Camp became tenser. An elderly homeless man sleeping in a parking lot about a mile up the road was accidentally run over and killed. A visiting friend was struck and killed in a hit-and-run as he left the camp on his bike.

Meanwhile, City Manager Feng had formed a task force to find a safer location for the campers to move to. To their frustration, the camp residents were not consulted in the process. Moore, the former IBM exec who stepped in to help the camp, says he and his friends were shut out at this point as well: “They said we’re working on it, but we can’t tell you what we’re working on.”

In September, the owners of a parking lot of a nearby mall agreed to host the community. A removal notice was posted at the camp, but the hosts backed out at the last minute. Feng called off the eviction. In October, a homeless services organization told the campers they had secured funding to provide each of them with a motel room for a year. This too fell apart, leaving the campers feeling jerked around. “We lost a lot of trust,” Feng admitted.

By the time I began visiting the camp in late October, morale was low. Various arguments and domestic spats had led to several of the core members taking a break and pitching their tents elsewhere. “The camp kind of broke apart a little,” Steve told me. It wasn’t just interpersonal drama — people were also worn down by living their private lives under the public gaze for so long, he said. “It’s not easy to be out here dealing with all these pressures that you don’t have to deal with when you’re hiding.” He looked away and started to cry.

Life in Wolfe Camp was extraordinarily stressful, but it was still a life. People fell in love and broke up. Some adopted pets. Others were active on social media. Cliques formed and fell apart. The people at the north end of the camp tended to have more resources than the folks at the south end, who they derided for leaving too much trash piled around their tents. All of them made it their home in their own way, adorning the camp with dumpster-sourced decorations, including an American flag, a scarecrow, and several nonfunctioning clocks. Someone fashioned a shower out of PVC pipe and an herbicide spray bottle, with a blue tarp for a curtain.

Food was a primary focus. An assortment of grills and camp stoves were scattered among the tents. Some campers had generators that powered minifridges, microwaves, and televisions. One day I found Jason, a Korean American sound engineer who claimed to have recorded a track for Snoop Dogg, clutching a Ziploc bag filled with a brown liquid in which chopped meat, herbs, and vegetables floated — his mom’s Korean ribs recipe, marinating in preparation for the grill.

Sharing meals is one small way the campers attempt to cope with their shared agony. “I spend most of my time in my tent staring at the walls or crying,” said Trey. “I’m broken inside. I don’t know how to get past it.”

Jason preparing pizza at the homeless encampment along Wolfe Road in Cupertino, California, on May 26, 2020. Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Several times a week, Ron, Trey, and their buddies ventured out after midnight to scour the dumpsters of the surrounding office parks and condo complexes, always trying to keep a step ahead of the security guards whose job it is to run them off. They would come back with flat-screen TVs, tablets, Kindles, high-end clothing, and handbags, often in mint condition and sometimes in their original packaging. These were sold on sites like Craigslist, OfferUp, and LetGo to pay phone bills, fuel the generators that power the camp, and fund the occasional indulgence of a motel room. Ron said he makes $500 to $800 a week for his efforts.

I asked Ron if he’d ever gotten into Apple’s dumpsters. Not since the campus was under construction, he said. “Those guys protect their trash like it’s fucking gold.”

Despite the hardships, several campers told me that returning to society would mean the loss of their most valuable asset — a communal existence. It was a trade-off they seemed hesitant to make. The loneliness of homelessness is extreme, but it forms the basis of a powerful bond. “A lot of us want to be here,” said Ron. “We love the compassion of it. We love the fact that we belong. Out here I can cry and be pathetic or loud and angry, whatever I need to be. I would never be able to heal anywhere else. I love these guys.”

OOne week before Thanksgiving, Moore walked into the camp to deliver some news. The council intended to vote on a plan to remove the camp — the meeting was to be held in a few hours — and an eviction notice could be posted as soon as the next morning. According to the plan, the city would pay for the campers to stay at a motel five miles away in San Jose, and help cover their food and transportation costs for six months. Moore said they would have the opportunity to speak up during the public comment period before the vote, provided they could get themselves registered in time and navigate the tech aspects of the virtual meeting. It was the first anyone in the camp had heard of the plan.

At six that evening, I logged onto the city’s Zoom portal and waited for the meeting to begin. A shot of city hall appeared on the screen as a jazzy soundtrack played. Eventually, Mayor Scharf appeared with puffy eyes and an unflattering camera angle. “Madam City Clerk, can you do the roll call please?” he asked. The clerk, a woman with crimson lipstick, a black turtleneck, and hair pulled back in an aristocratic bun, determined that a quorum of councilors was present.

Feng gave a PowerPoint presentation about the history of the camp and filled the councilors in on the relocation plan. Normally, eviction notices are posted at homeless camps 72 hours before the sheriff arrives to do the dirty work, she explained. But given the upcoming holiday, they would allow the campers two weeks to get out. “Thanksgiving is next week and we know that Thanksgiving means a lot to everybody, whether they’re housed or unhoused,” said Feng. “So we decided to give them the time to” — she seemed to be considering her words carefully — “celebrate the holiday.”

Finally, it was time for the public comment period. Only a handful of camp residents had managed to log into the meeting. Each would have three minutes to speak.

“Welcome, Trey,” said Vice Mayor Darcy Paul. “I’m unmuting you now.”

“Hello, can you hear me?” said Trey. The whooshing sound of the traffic next to his tent was audible in the background. “I’m one of the residents here at the encampment,” he said, rather forcefully. The mayor wrinkled his nose. “I want to thank you guys for actually doing something,” Trey continued. “Because it’s greatly needed,” he said, his tone softening a bit. “We’ve all been out here for a long time and it’s not easy. At all.”

A few tents down, Ron, James, and Derek huddled around a screen. “How you doing?” said Bobby to the councilors. “How are y’all?” said Jason.

Many of the campers were satisfied with the city’s offer, but Ron didn’t waste time pointing out the elephant in the Zoom. “I hear a lot of you talking for us, and I don’t appreciate that. We have not been included in any of these conversations.”

He said that some campers were unlikely to accept the motel offer, including himself. “We’re all very different,” he said. “People have different needs.” He suggested that the city come talk to the campers before voting on the plan. “I’d really like you guys to consider working directly with us,” he said. “We are willing to talk to you. We’re educated. We’re very intelligent people. We’re not violent.”

Ron’s oration turned philosophical. “A lot of us are out here taking care of the people you lose.” Without the support of the camp, “I’d probably be dead,” he said. “There’s really a lot to think about in this situation.” The mayor took a drink from his mug. “It’s a homeless encampment in front of the largest and most expensive building in” — Ron’s three minutes were up and the vice mayor hit the mute button.

“Thank you, Ron,” he said.

TThe motion passed unanimously. The next morning, a notice to vacate was posted at each end of the camp. A man from a nonprofit group contracted by the city walked around with a clipboard asking people whether they wanted to move to the motel. Only seven accepted the offer.

Feng, the city manager, had anticipated that this might happen. In addition to the motel, the city was also setting up a new, sanctioned camp, she told me, that would be on a side street away from high-speed traffic. Anyone willing to move there would get a new tent and sleeping bag. Several local companies were chipping in to help pay for the motel and the new camp. Apple was not one of them.

Nonetheless, the company would finally be forced to confront the homeless encampment. The newly sanctioned homeless camp was located in a small city-owned parking lot, just a few feet from one of Apple’s off-campus office buildings. Apple Park was just a block away. “Apple is not happy with me,” Feng told me when we spoke in November. “But that’s too bad.”

Ron in his shelter in Davis, California, February 27, 2021.

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