Former Business Owner Has Been Living In Silicon Valley's 'Jungle' For Five Years

This story is a part of Business Insider’s “
Homeless In Silicon Valley” series reported by Robert Johnson and edited by Chris C. Anderson. Jill Klausen and graphic designer Mike Nudelman contributed to this series.

When Mama Red lost her Felton, Calif., flower shop 18 years ago, all of her savings went with it. She ended up homeless when she turned to California’s shelter network and hated it.

“Living in shelters is like being in jail,” she told Business Insider in mid-July. When we visited her in San Jose’s homeless encampment called “The Jungle,” the smell of rotting flesh saturated the air. “It’s a raccoon,” she said, pointing to a shopping cart behind her.

The list of shelter rules drove Mama Red to sleep briefly behind a gas station and from there to a freeway ramp. Five years ago she moved into The Jungle and says she has no regrets.

With the stench of a rotting raccoon in the shopping cart behind her, Mama Red explains how she lost her floral business 18 years ago. She chose to live on the streets instead of a shelter.

She's been living in The Jungle for five years. Her pregnant daughter had been staying with her but was picked up by police for a drug violation.

Red fought to hold onto this spot after police came in and swept the camp clean last April.

Though she struggled to keep it, Red knows it's just a matter of time before they come through again and she'll have to rebuild from scratch.

Here along the perimeter of The Jungle it's quieter than the community at its center where Red says drugs, fighting, and drama are a daily way of life.

Red's daughter had planned on having her baby here, but ended up leaving camp to give birth.

Delivering a baby in these conditions is dangerous. A prematurely born infant died within moments of being born here earlier this year. Three adults have died in The Jungle this year and violence is a constant concern, especially for women.

With her daughter out of the camp, Red tells us how important her four dogs are to her. 'They're like my kids. I'd never get rid of them.' She continues, 'I like living like this if you want to know the truth. Where else can I go with them (the dogs)?'

Food makes its way into Red's camp from charities. Some Jungle residents receive food stamps, but a lack of running water and hygiene challenges complicate daily life.

'This is all I know,' Red says.

There are more than 7,000 homeless people sleeping in San Jose each night ...

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.