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Central Valley | Health, Housing, and Public Services

Will Fresno’s Homeless People be put into a Concentration Camp?
by Mike Rhodes ( mikerhodes [at] comcast.net )
Wednesday Jun 20th, 2007 2:51 PM
Fresno’s homeless sound the alarm that the city wants to round them up and force them into a concentration camp. Photo below is Al Williams, a homeless man, speaking before the Fresno City Council meeting on June 19.
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Will Fresno’s Homeless People be put into a Concentration Camp?
Is this the final solution?
By Mike Rhodes

Homeless people say they don’t want to be put into a concentration camp located in the old industrial section south of downtown Fresno. Speaking before the Fresno City Council on June 19, Al Williams who is a homeless man in the Roeding Park area, said “you are trying to put people into a concentration camp. . . I’d rather be in jail than a concentration camp.” Williams was referring to the city’s plan to force all homeless people into a 30,000 square-foot lot that has no shade and is fenced in on all sides.

Williams is not the only homeless person concerned about the specter of being put into a concentration camp. Cynthia Greene, who lives in a homeless encampment on G and California street, told me that she would not be forced “into that concentration camp. They don’t have any shade, it is all fenced in, and full of goat head thorns.” Williams and Greene spoke up for their rights as the City Council debated a new city ordinance that would ban camping (without a permit) in the City of Fresno. The ordinance is targeting the thousands of homeless people (the latest estimate is that there are over 8,000 homeless people) in this community. If passed, this ordinance would add to other “quality of life” ordinances directed at the homeless. Those ordinances include one passed last year that makes it a crime to push a shopping cart and an earlier ordinance that makes it illegal to panhandle.

Becky Johnson, a homeless advocate in Santa Cruz, Ca says that local government has passed anti-camping ordinances there and that it has been a dismal failure. Johnson writes, “common sense tells us that if a man doesn't have $40 for a motel room, then he can't afford a $90 Camping citation either. Here in Santa Cruz our city writes nearly 6,000 camping citations a year and we STILL have a large homeless population. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”

Johnson continues “you can't solve homelessness thru fiat. Homelessness is the logical consequence of current economic and political policies over which the individual has little control. When a homeless person gets a citation for the "crime" of living out of doors because he can't afford to live indoors, this compounds his set of problems. He now is treated as a criminal by law enforcement, is deeper in debt, and in the best case scenario ( he serves his sentence/pays his fine) he now has a criminal record which is a further obstacle to obtaining housing and employment. In as many cases as not, these citations go to warrant, and the person ends up spending time in our county jail which is costly and completely non-productive.”

According to Johnson “the 9th Circuit Court ruled in 2006 that citing people for sleeping or sheltering themselves at night in a situation in which insufficient shelter exists, constitutes ‘cruel and inhuman punishment’ and is forbidden constitutionally. Those cited under Fresno's new law might turn right around and sue the City for damages.”

The proposed ordinance can be seen here: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/06/18/18428393.php . The ordinance was recommended by a homeless task force headed by the Rev. Larry Arce. See earlier story - Holy War Against the Homeless here: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/04/20/18402635.php . There are no homeless people on the “Homeless Task Force.”

The stated goal of the task force is the establishment of a plot of land where the homeless can camp. This is a part of Fresno mayor Alan Autry’s initiative to set up a “free zone” where homeless people can go. See: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/04/17/18400746.php . The mayor’s pledged to establish an encampment where homeless people could go and be safe. This camp would have portable toilets, trash bins, running water, and a trailer from the County of Fresno that will provide social services.

Instead, what the homeless have received are more evictions (see: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/06/12/18427051.php ), harassment, and ordinances criminalizing poverty. The 60 day (self imposed) deadline in which the mayor promised to set up this free zone has come and gone. With property owners in the area of the proposed encampment up in arms (see http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/06/13/18427207.php ) about the location and the homeless themselves ambivalent if not down right hostile to the proposal, the mayor’s plan and the Homeless Task Force seem destined for failure.

Big Sue, a homeless woman in downtown Fresno, told me that she thought the city is trying to push them as far south of Ventura Avenue as they can. This assessment was confirmed by city council member Jerry Duncan’s call-in to local right wing talk show host Inga Barka’s radio show last month. Duncan told Barka that the goal was to move the homeless people so they are not so visible in the downtown area and that once they establish this camp it will give them (the city) the ability to clean up illegal encampments elsewhere.

At the June 19 City Council meeting Duncan went one step further. He wondered out loud about whether the camping ordinance went far enough. He complained about people who give the homeless food and clothing. Duncan appeared to be seriously considering an ordinance that would ban people from feeding and clothing the homeless.

Can the City of Fresno successfully manage homeless people by forcing them onto a small plot of land in the industrial section of the city and passing increasingly repressive ordinances against them? Cynthia Greene speaking before the City Council said “if this ordinance is passed it will be challenged. It was challenged in Los Angeles and they had to back down because it is not good for the people.” The homeless in Fresno will use whatever tools they have at their disposal to stop this cruel and inhumane treatment, stop the unconstitutional criminalization of poverty, and fight against their confinement in the proposed concentration camp.

For a list of articles and documents about the struggle for civil liberties for homeless people in Fresno, see: http://www.fresnoalliance.com/home/homelessness.htm

###
Oxford University Dictionary:

Concentration Camp - concentration camp >noun a camp for detaining political prisoners, especially in Nazi Germany
§Cynthia Greene
by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Jun 20th, 2007 2:51 PM
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Cynthia Green said “homelessness is created by the government, not by the people. It is created by corporations, business both large and small.” As hard as life is on the street, Cynthia said she would not go to what she describes as a “concentration camp” being set up by the City of Fresno.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by trapped & harrassed in DHS police state
Wednesday Jun 20th, 2007 3:56 PM
When FEMA detention camps for displaced people become the norm, we can consider ourselves as prisoners of our own government's police state (Dept. of Homeland Security). People can become displaced for a number of reasons, NAFTA/WTO based job export & loss (Ford's lay off)and climate change storms (Katrina) are increasingly popular causes of displaced people (aka homeless or houseless) that lack physical shelter..

Though shelter could easily be made available to said displaced people, current corporate property ownership takes up large sections of our collective sub/urban & rural land base with meaningless structures, lawns, etc..

Other concepts include voluntary villages for displaced people to sleep and rest in safe, dry conditions;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dignity_Village

Instead of allowing displaced people to rest and sleep in collective land space, corporations claim property ownership and hire private security/police to remove houseless people by force..

IF the FEMA detention camps post Katrina taught people anything, it was not to trust the U.S. government for providing shelter in times of emergency or anytime thereafter. This large scale incarceration of thousands by FEMA in the Superdome could be considered an experiment for future FEMA detention sites throughout north america..

So what happens when the GW Bush regime's DHS police label the people as insurgents??

"The Hurricane Katrina insurgency from New Orleans is tucked safely away behind the 6-foot chain link fence with the accommodating barb wire atop chain links. The ONLY entry into Detention Camp Utah is through the highly secure military gates that are guarded by armed military guards twenty four seven. ... The ONLY access to the New Orleans insurgency is granted to military, government officials, and MAINSTREAM media," Nash wrote.

Detention Camp Utah, "located about 20 miles from downtown civilization," is a "windblown and barren military installation atop the foothills of what is known as the Oquirrh (pronounced ochre) Mountains. It is isolated and surely quiet," Nash said. "There is no transportation, public or otherwise, for the New Orleans insurgency. Supposedly, it has been reported by one local media concern that there will be twice-daily bus service available to 'cleared' insurgents."

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Hurricane_Katrina's_Displaced_Persons:_Forced_Evacuation%3F_Forced_Detention%3F

Sounds like the people themselves are becoming the enemy of the US government under GW bush. What are we good for them anyway; either send us off to die in Iraq, send us to prison to work below minimum wage, or send us to FEMA detention camps??

NO!!

RESIST!!


This is a repost and expansion of an earlier comment in which I expressed amazement that the Fresno City Council would come up with an anti-camping law in the teeth of the L.A. Jones decision of April 2006. [http://indybay.org/newsitems/2007/06/18/18428393.php?show_comments=1#18430277]

Some quotes from that decision--which persuaded San Diego to stop arresting homeless people for sleeping at night, and to settle their own lawsuit:

"Homeless indivduals, who may suffer from mental illness, substance abuse problems, unemployment, and p overty, ar eunlikely to have the knowledge or resources to asert a necessity defense...much less to have acces to counsel whent hey are arrested and arraigned. Furthermore, even counseled homeless individuals are unlikely to subject themselves to further jail time and at rial when they can plead guilty in return for a sentence of time served and immediate release."

"Finally one must quesiton the policy of arresting, jailing, and prosecuting individuals whom the city Attorney concedes cannot be convicted due to a necessity defense. If there is no offesne for whicht he homelss can be convicted, is the city admitting that all that comes before is merely police harassment of a vulnerable population? "

"As a practical matter, it is unquestionable how homeless individuals would either know that they could assert a necessity defense or have the wherewithal to hire an attorney who might advise them, particularly after being arrested, serving jail time, and losing their belongings. The argument that, at trial, a homeless individual would have recourse to a necessity defense so as to avoid conviction begs the question why the City arrests homeless indivduals during the nighttime in the first place, other than out of indifference or meanness." [p. 4432]

"...[U]ndisputed evidence in the record, including several reports directly authored or commissioned by City agencies or task forces, shows that there is a chronic and severe gap between the number of homeless individuals and the number of available beds in Los Angeles...This evidence supports the reasonable inference that shelter is unavailable for thousands of homeless individuals in Los Angeles on any given night...."

"...[H]omeless individuals...are in a chronic state that may have been acquired "innocently or involuntarily". Whether sitting, lyhing, and sleeping are defined as acts or conditions, they are universal and unavoidable consequences of being human. It is undisputed that, for homeless individuals in Skid Row who have no access to private spaces, these acts can only be done in public."

"The Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punshing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles."

"By our decision, we in no way dictate to the City that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets of Los Angeles at any time or at any place within the City. All we hold is that, so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in Los Angeles than the number of available beds, the city may not enforce section 41.18(d) at all times and places throughout the City against homeless indivdiuals for involuntarily sitting, lying or sleeping in public."

The word of the Jones decision is pretty clear.
http://peopleproject.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/jones-v-la-2006.pdf

Los Angeles and San Diego, two of the largest cities in the state have (against their bigoted worser natures) stopped ticketing homeless people for sleeping at night. Richmond has altered its law to preclude ticketing if shelter is not available.

Now Fresno's City Council bumpkins propose, along with some paid poverty pimps, to set up a field that might house 200 homeless people at most.

Doesn't Fresno have a homeless population of 8000 to 16000?

Isn't the City now paying for the nose because it decided to destroy homeless property and was slapped down in the recent Kincaid decision?

One can only wonder if the City Attorney likes litigation and so is urging another bad law be passed to give his office more work.

For activists, and particularly legal workers, it's important to stand up and educate the community that Sleeping Ban not only unwise, inhumane, and unconstitutional, they will cost the city much dolares.

Or perhaps those lawyers are waiting for a chance to make a little money with a new lawsuit?

It doesn't look like fun for the homeless in any case.

Still homeless folks could pitch a tent outside the City Attorney's office and wait for their tickets, then cash them in several years later when the local federal judge, applying the written precedent of the Jones decision, finds in their favor. That's one way to make a living, I guess.


Mike Rhodes will be on the air discussing this issue at http://www.freakradio.org Sunday morning 8:45 AM June 24. The show will be archived at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb070621.mp3.




Add a Comment
by Melissa
Tuesday Jun 26th, 2007 12:39 AM
What is next for these poor men women and children. When do they get a break? Maybe all they need is a place to create some stability in their lives so they can thrive. I cant imagine my children being hungry, or not having a bed to sleep on, or a toilet to use. When is it enough. How long do they have to suffer. There are so many resources in our community, why dont we use them. I am sure that if the city opened up some place to house the homless donations would start pouring in. Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Im sure that they could recieve enough donations of money, materials, and time to create a whole community. I know this because their are probably a lot of other people just like me out their who want to help but dont know how. I have an idea. Why not find a large area in Fresno owned by the city and use it for the homeless. An area with trees and grass . Have it fenced in, build them restrooms with changing tables for the babies and showers. Give them playgrounds for the kids and shelter. Let them have their tents. Give them security so the children are safe. Have someone regulate who lives their and who doesnt, keep out the drug addicts and felons. Ask Doctors, Dentists, Teachers and Therapists to donate their time and services. What is the big deal? Fresno can do this, we need to do this. These poor souls need help and most deserve it especially the children.
by Elaine Trovato
Monday Jul 30th, 2007 6:53 PM
I am shocked that anyone in the world, EVEN A POLITICIAN would treat fellow human beings this way. I don't even want to be a part of a country that singles out the poor and tries to take away their human rights after many of them have already lost so much in this life. Many of us are praying for the home less all the time but obviously this is not enough. It is time for all of us tr stand in unity and defend those that need our help. I am appalled that people are trying to make it illegal to help the homeless. I could just vomit.
by GOPrNazis
Wednesday Sep 29th, 2010 11:41 AM
See? Conservaitsm IS nazism.