SAN JOSE (KCBS) – Crews spent much of Thursday morning clearing out Kelley Park in San Jose, the site of a major homeless encampment for years, as part of a planned sweep.

The homeless were warned earlier this week that they had three days to clear out. On Thursday morning, the garbage trucks moved in to dismantle 16 elaborate campsites near Coyote Creek.

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As the homeless walked, biked, or were pushed in wheelchairs down a dirt path that meanders along the creek bank, garbage trucks with signs that read, “Santa Clara Valley Water District: Clean Safe Creeks” rolled past them toward the encampment.

KCBS’ Betsy Gebhart Reports:

Workers from the California Conservation Corps hauled mattresses, bottles, chairs and a number of other items away from the site, while many of the homeless checked in with members of Downtown Streets Team, a nonprofit whose members had come to the creek earlier this week as well.

“We have removed tons of debris and trash from encampments like this in other places,” said Santa Clara Valley Water District spokesman Marty Grimes. “That trash often ends up flowing down the creek, causing water quality issues, as it can flow into the bay. These are major sources of pollution in our creeks.”

Along with pollution, there were four separate fires at the encampments just last week, some threatening a nearby condo complex.

Camper Jericho Adams has been living at the site for four months.

“Some people have been out here for years. It’s unfortunate that it’s come down to one bad seed out here that started these fires to have this all come down to this,” he said.

Mary Moshella said she had been sleeping on a couch by the creek since her trailer was impounded a month ago, but that others had been at the site for as long as two years.

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“If you’re on general assistance like we are, they try to help you get jobs. But there’s no jobs,” Moshella said as she stood by her shopping cart smoking a cigarette in the shade.

“There’s nobody hiring. Everybody’s looking for a job and it’s not there,” she said.

Despite the particular attention given to Thursday’s sweep, San Jose city spokesman David Vossbrink said cleanups like this one have been happening for years, and that this effort is the fourth of its kind in the city this year.

The cleanups are a collaboration between the city of San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley Water District to address the buildup of trash, sanitation problems, and trespassing issues.

This year, Vossbrink said, the city is taking special care to separate belongings from trash in order to respect the rights of the homeless and protect itself from litigation.

Once the cleanup is complete, the city will store the belongings for 90 days so that people have an opportunity to claim their things. So far though, Vossbrink said, no one has claimed items collected in this year’s previous sweeps.

Vossbrink said the load of trash and other items being hauled away from the encampment today is sizeable.

“There’s just a whole bunch of stuff,” he said. “We estimate that we’ll get between three and six tons.”

The homeless were given vouchers for temporary housing at local motels.

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