- City officials in East Palo Alto evicted about 50 residents, including some school-aged children, from parked vehicles on a residential block.
- The area is located near the future site of a school funded by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The Primary School serves low-income families in the city.
- The wealth gap is worsening in East Palo Alto, where nearly 60% of students in the school district are facing homelessness.
Homeless families and others living in RVs were forced to leave a street in the Silicon Valley city of East Palo Alto on Wednesday, sparking protests aimed at the tech industry.
City officials emptied a block of Weeks Street located next to the future site of The Primary School funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan.
A spokesperson for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative told The Guardian it was not aware of the evictions before Wednesday, when a tow truck arrived on Weeks Street threatening to remove a dozen parked vehicles. About 50 people, including some school-aged children, were displaced.
Yesterday, the city of East Palo Alto served eviction notices to families living out of cars and RVs on Weeks St & Pulgas. This is the future site of the Chan-Zuckerberg Primary School (yes, Mark Zuckerberg). People are blocking the street to protect the families. pic.twitter.com/BqslRfYjlY
— Some people call me the space cowboy some call me (@Hermit_Hwarang) November 15, 2017
The incident has brought attention to the profound poverty in the East Palo Alto school district, which includes the Facebook campus in its catchment area.
A staggering 58% of students in the local school district experience homelessness – from crashing on couches to sleeping in RVs and shelters – according to district superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff. A short supply of housing combined with an influx of wealthy tech workers has driven prices sky-high, leaving longtime residents with fewer options.
The wealth gap in Silicon Valley cities is widening. In East Palo Alto, the median household income is $52,000, while in the neighborhoding town of Palo Alto is is $137,000.
The Primary School opened to 51 low-income families in August 2016 at its current location in East Palo Alto. The preschool is private, but tuition is free. Chan, a pediatrician and CEO of the school, based the curriculum on a model that provides health services as part of the experience.
Teachers receive training on how to spot and manage a child with asthma – one of the top reasons students stay home from school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and dentists offer cleanings on site. Parents of students partner with coaches and teachers to measure and track a child’s health, education, and social-emotional development.
The Primary School hopes to add more students (who are selected through a lottery) and teachers, with the goal of reaching 700 families in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park’s Belle Haven neighborhood. Eventually, it plans to serve preschool through eighth grade.
Residents of East Palo Alto gathered on Weeks Street on Wednesday to protest the displacement. They claimed the city gave residents fewer than 24 hours to pack up and leave.
This is happening today (11/15) please be there if you can to help protest the gentrification of East Palo Alto! pic.twitter.com/yLAHlmSfCD
— Hana Yohannes ???? (@HanaYohannes) November 15, 2017
“It’s very unreasonable,” Marlayna Tuiasosopo, a protester and leader of the Real Community Coalition, told The Mercury News. “It’s also inhumane.”
The city cited residents’ actions, not the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, as reason for the eviction. It said people living in RVs on Weeks Street were illegally dumping their chemical toilets into storm drains, creating a potential health hazard ahead of detrimental rain storms.