SAN JOSE -- Robert Aguirre discovered a notice from the city attached to a tree stump near his tent last Friday. A city cleanup was coming. Anyone living in the notorious encampment known as "The Jungle" had to remove their property by 7 a.m. Monday, or face criminal prosecution.
"If they want to get us out of here, they need to give us a place to go," said Aguirre, 60. "If not here, then where?"
As it turned out, no large-scale cleanup materialized Monday at the South Bay's largest homeless encampment. A city official conceded that there was miscommunication, and that workers only will be removing trash sometime this week from the opposite side of Coyote Creek, where there are only a few tents.
But sweeping out The Jungle clearly is on the city's radar.
Ray Bramson, San Jose's homeless response team manager, said about 15 people living in tents along a dirt parking lot above the encampment will be told to move by the end of the month. That includes where Aguirre now is camped.
The city also is planning to install boulders and a gate bordering Story Road to prevent easy access to The Jungle. That is drawing criticism from religious groups and others who help feed the homeless, and would have to start coordinating with the city to get into the encampment.
And the long-term goal, Bramson added, is to clean out the encampment -- which numbers about 200 people -- before the end of the year.
"Everyone has strong feelings," he said. "Some folks want all the encampments removed immediately because of the effect on neighborhoods and the environment. Others want us to wait until we can get everyone housed. But we have to work in the middle and with the resources we have available."
Over the weekend, Aguirre said, a wave of "panic" had spread across the encampment as nobody understood what exactly was going to be happening this week.
But Monday turned out not to be a moving day. Instead of city workers, it was the media that arrived in the early morning hours.
The intense scrutiny illustrates the complexity and challenge the city is facing as it tries to rein in a sprawling encampment that has drawn national attention because it is near the heart of wealthy Silicon Valley. Officials resolutely say that encampments like The Jungle are unfit for human habitation, can be dens for criminal activity and are destroying the environment.
Homeless and their advocates counter that nobody wants to live this way, but some have nowhere else to go.
"This is the richest place on the planet, and we have to figure out a way to house people," said Sandy Perry, of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County. "And if we can't do that, then at least we can provide a camping area with proper sanitation. This isn't a law enforcement problem. It's an affordable housing problem."
A report released Monday found that the county has the nation's highest median household income at $93,500, but also a widening gap between haves and have-nots -- something that is grimly evident by The Jungle.
Officials are under mounting pressure to do something.
Earlier this year, the State Department of Fish and Wildlife filed an environmental complaint against the city, claiming it was falling to clean up encampments along Coyote Creek. In July, San Jose police officers conducted a targeted sweep of The Jungle, making a half-dozen arrests on outstanding warrants for nonviolent offenses.
Aguirre's campsite is well-tended, and he said he puts out trash cans for everyone to use in an effort to keep the area as garbage-free as possible.
"I didn't choose to be homeless," he said. "We were living in our car. But my wife's health got worse, and we couldn't stay in there. That's why we came here. But we're also trying to figure out how to get out."
Aguirre said he has a Section 8 housing subsidy, but can't find a landlord who will accept it.
"I have a voucher, and I still can't find a place to live," he added.
Bramson said the city is giving its outreach partners time to house as many people living in The Jungle as possible before conducting a large-scale cleanup of the site. But he said that the reality is, with an average of 5,000 people living outdoors on any given night, there is not nearly enough housing for everyone.
"This is just not an easy task to accomplish," he said. "But we are trying to address the underlying causes of the encampments while respecting the needs of the people who are living in there."
Follow Mark Emmons at Twitter.com/markedwinemmons.