SAN JOSE -- Police officers fanned out through the trash-strewn mini-city of tents, tree houses and makeshift shelters situated along Coyote Creek. They patrolled the notorious encampment known as "The Jungle" like they would any other part of the city.
And that was the whole idea -- to be seen.
A contingent of one sergeant and 10 officers, all working overtime, set up at the encampment near Happy Hollow zoo on Friday and conducted foot patrols as part of the effort to get a better handle on what has been described as the largest homeless enclave in the country.
They made about a half-dozen arrests on outstanding warrants related to non-violent offenses involving illegal drugs or trespassing, said Sgt. Stan McFadden, the on-scene police supervisor.
Some of the encampment's estimated 200 residents, who had gotten word of the imminent police arrival, made themselves scarce. Others ignored the uniformed visitors.
Stephanie Valenzuela Castaneda, who lives in The Jungle with her adult son, said the officers were mostly cordial.
"They were pretty good, pretty polite," she said.
McFadden echoed that other than the arrests, there were no notable conflicts during the five hours officers surveyed the scene, looking for evidence of illegal activity. Sgt. Heather Randol, a police spokeswoman, said SJPD is working with city housing officials to provide a stopgap between the intermittent encampment cleanups spearheaded by the city.
"It's a way to have a police presence in the area and take the temperature," she said. "We haven't been there in a while and it'll be sometime before the big cleanup. That process is long, and we want to make sure it's not left unchecked."
Ray Bramson, San Jose's homeless response team manager, echoed that sentiment, describing Friday's activity in an email as "just another small part of our overall efforts and response."
Santa Clara County has one of the nation's largest homeless populations. A census last year found more than 7,600 homeless individuals -- and nearly three-quarters of them were unsheltered.
But while the city has found nearly 250 encampments of various sizes, The Jungle is known as the worst.
This newspaper has written extensively about the encampment, which is virtually invisible to drivers traveling along Story Road. The coverage has made the encampment highly symbolic in the heated, ongoing debate about how to best deal with homelessness in the shadow of wealthy Silicon Valley.
It even had a national spotlight earlier this month when an Associated Press story about one woman's plight to escape The Jungle focused attention about the region's complicated problem with the homeless, who often are dealing with physical and mental illnesses.
Valenzuela Castaneda is on a similar trajectory. A little over a year ago, she moved to The Jungle after quitting her job as a phlebotomist to care for her schizophrenic son. She has since secured housing in part by working with the nonprofit Downtown Streets Team, and plans to bring her son home with her and resume her former career.
"I want to get back to work," she said.
Randol said Friday's patrol used at-large "complement" units that are at commanders' disposal to address specific needs that arise through citizen complaints or police intelligence. Other instances of their deployment include patrolling neighborhoods that have seen flare-ups in gang violence.
She said the special patrols for areas like The Jungle can only be performed occasionally because of the department's priority of emergency-call response and a lack of available staffing.
During the 2013-14 fiscal year, the city and Santa Clara Valley Water District conducted 49 joint cleanups that removed 687 tons of debris from homeless encampments during sweeps that require police presence. Steve Holmes, founder of the groups of Friends of Los Gatos Creek and Friends of Guadalupe River, said he was pleased to hear that police were patrolling The Jungle at a time other than a cleanup.
"This is unusual, it's something new and I think it's awesome," Holmes said. "The EPA has listed Coyote Creek as one of the most polluted waterways in America. Agencies have allowed our waterways to become third-world countries. Front-end enforcement is so much more effective."