SAN JOSE -- Joe Andreatta gobbled down the fast-food burger, fries and apple pie that his niece bought him. He scanned the open field near downtown that he has called home since autumn.

"Where do you think you might go?" Kathy Herschbach asked.

"I've got no clue," said Andreatta, 67. "I've honestly got no idea."

On Friday morning, workers will conduct a cleanup of the large homeless encampment along Spring Street between Taylor and Hedding streets that recently has become a flash point in the ongoing efforts to deal with the transient problem in Santa Clara County. The more than 100 people living in tents and other flimsy structures will have to move on.

The question is where.

"I met a woman out here who has been living outdoors for 18 years," Andreatta said, standing next to his tent. "This is her life. But it's not my life. I'm not accustomed to it, and I don't want to become accustomed to it. I would be glad to get out of here. Find me a room and I will."

Andreatta has been trying to put a roof over his head without success since last year. The system, Herschbach added, is confounding.

"If you read in the newspaper about how there are shelters and people trying to help the homeless, you think, 'What are they complaining about out there?' " she said. "But it's not as easy as it sounds. Nothing seems to be available for housing. There always seems to be a six-month or even a two-year waiting list. It's very frustrating."

She added: "You know how they find homes for lost dogs? Well, how come we can't find rooms for people?"

There are an estimated 60 encampments throughout Santa Clara County. This one, which sits in the flight path of Mineta San Jose International Airport, gained notoriety because it's so visible and grew so quickly -- in part because of another recent sweep of homeless by Caltrans along the Guadalupe River.

The cleanup is expected to cost from $20,000 to $25,000. A private security firm will help patrol the undeveloped land to prevent people from returning.

"There's not just one kind of homeless person," said Ray Bramson, the city of San Jose's project manager in charge of the encampment issue. "There are veterans, families, young people transitioning out of foster care. But the encampments really are no place to live."

Andreatta, who has wisps of unruly gray facial hair and was dressed in layers of clothes, said it was a last resort for him. He is a graduate of nearby Bellarmine College Preparatory and San Jose State and was a Marine Corps reservist. He points in the direction of where Thrifty Market, which was owned by his family, once stood at Spring and Hedding streets.

Nothing there but memories now, Andreatta said, adding that he blames no one but himself for his current situation.

"You bring it upon yourself," said Andreatta, who never married and has no children. "You reap what you sow. This is what my life turned out to be, and you can't do it over again." But, he continued, "I still should have a place to live."

Andreatta, who suffered a stroke about four years ago, said he had been renting out single rooms because it's what he could afford on the $817 he receives each month from Social Security. But last year, the house where he lived for $450 a month was padlocked when the owners stopped paying the mortgage.

He spent a month at the Montgomery Street Inn emergency shelter when another housing arrangement fell through, and he ended up in the encampment in October. Herschbach said having Andreatta live with her family is not possible, but she has tried to help by bringing him meals, washing his clothes and searching for affordable housing.

"I've found that when you start making calls, you go in a circle that doesn't end up with results," she said.

Andreatta said this week that no one had talked to him offering emergency shelter and that counselors he has spoken with in the past hadn't offered solutions.

He is familiar with the Housing 1000 campaign, which is an initiative of Destination: Home. That public-private partnership hopes to place 1,000 of the county's chronically homeless into housing and so far has housed 345 people. But Andreatta is not eligible because he hasn't been homeless for more than a year.

"There are thousands of people still on the streets of Santa Clara County," said Jennifer Loving, the executive director of Destination: Home. "They have to wait in line in shelters. They might get a bed, they might not. It's just so hard to navigate. It's a myth that most people want to be out there."

Herschbach worries about her uncle, who has lost weight and is moving slower. At some point, his dentures were stolen. She watched as Andreatta and Mike Stephens, who had a tent pitched nearby, looked over the 72-hour notice the city had posted in advance of the cleanup.

"If you find a place, let me know," Andreatta told him, "because I've got nowhere else to go."

Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745. Follow him at Twitter.com/markedwinemmons.