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

Brian J Barth
Published in
23 min readApr 7, 2021

--

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.

--

--