We can say it officially now. San Jose has its Hooverville, the modern version of the Depression-era encampments that collected the misery of the homeless.
True, it is a suburban Hooverville, with trash bagged on the street, propane tanks for cooking, campsites distanced from one another. Even the homeless don't like being cramped.
Like the Hoovervilles of the 1930s, however, the encampment rebukes our complacency, reminding us of the fractures in our economic health.
As you drive into downtown on Coleman Avenue from Interstate 880, you can see 70-odd tents blossoming on either side of Spring Street in the city's airport approach zone.
All that is likely to change soon. Located on the city's welcome mat, the encampment is too visible to stay. City officials have scheduled the week of March 4 for a massive cleanup that could cost $40,000.
In the game of "whack-a-mole" that we play with the homeless, the tents and their occupants will migrate elsewhere.
For the moment, the visibility of the encampment off Hedding Street forces us to confront a phenomenon that we'd sooner put out of sight, out of mind.
In his state of the city message, Mayor Chuck Reed noted happily that the Milken Institute had proclaimed the San Jose metropolitan area the best in the country at creating and sustaining economic growth. (The study was actually talking about Silicon Valley, but let's not quibble too much).
The truth is that there are thousands of folks left behind in that race -- the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, the folks with criminal records.
In the creeks, they were the people who used shopping carts to fish for Chinook salmon. They were the folks who dumped their trash and sewage into the stream. Environmentalists cried foul. The Santa Clara Valley Water District made cleaning up the creeks a top priority. In early January, Caltrans swept the Guadalupe River.
And the homeless moved to the cleared plots of what a half-century ago was a residential neighborhood -- before the jet planes shook the houses to their foundations.
From a not-in-my-backyard point of view, the homeless have landed in a place without too many complaining neighbors.
"The word has gotten out that there's no resistance," said Leslee Hamilton, the executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy.
I rode my wheezing Nishiki 10-speed past the encampment this week and saw a tired-looking man in his 50s walking toward a tent with a cup of coffee.
"Do they give you any hassle here?" I asked him. "No," he told me, "as long as we stay out of the creek."
Their own code
It struck me that he and his comrades were obeying their own rough zoning code: Stay out off the creek. Protect the field mouse and the fish. Hope for a look the other way.
Just steps away from the developed portions of the Guadalupe River Park, which some saw as our rough-hewn Central Park, the settlement is too visible to ignore.
And many good people are trying to deal with the unwanted settlers. The Emergency Housing Consortium has dispatched its folks. City staffers work hard to find help. It is not a lack of goodwill.
The Hoovervilles of the '30s were political statements, located in places like Central Park in New York City or the shores of the Willamette River in Portland, Ore.
The encampment on Spring Street is a political challenge, too, but one less widely shared than the misery of the Depression.
"It's easy to point fingers at police and just tell them to arrest people," said Councilman Sam Liccardo. "But if you don't have somewhere to push them to, they'll be back."
The Hooverville of the airport approach zone will disappear for a while. The homeless will not. They will gather again under a freeway, or near a creek.
For most of us, they will be out of sight, but they should not be out of mind.