SF Bay Area Indymedia indymedia
About Contact Subscribe Calendar Publish Print Donate

Central Valley | Health, Housing, and Public Services

Faith Groups Speak Out About the Homeless Issue
by Mike Rhodes ( editor [at] fresnoalliance.com )
Wednesday Dec 21st, 2011 2:16 PM
Over 100 people attended a Press Conference today in front of Fresno City Hall to call on the city to stop the police and City Sanitation departments ongoing attacks against the homeless. Spokesperson Bill Simon, chairperson of the Bishop John Steinbock Homeless Advocacy Committee said the city has destroyed homeless peoples shelter and is now taking and destroying their blankets, winter coats, and even taking firewood that they use to keep themselves warm at night. Video below: 13:31 minutes
Copy the following to embed the movie into another web page:
download video:

homeless_press_conf_12-21-11.m4v (157.6MB)

This was the announcement about the Press Conference sent out to the media:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 21, 2011

Contact: Bill Simon, Bishop John Steinbock Homeless Advocacy Committee, 227-6565

PRESS CONFERENCE: HOMELESSNESS IN FRESNO

Wednesday, 12-21-11
10:30 am
City Hall, 2600 N Fresno St.

The City of Fresno, since October 27, 2011, has illegally, immorally, and meanly attacked the homeless community in Fresno. As members of the Faith Community in Fresno, members of many different Houses of Worship, we are deeply disturbed by the City's flagrant disregard of law and its failure to serve the common good, especially as the common good effects the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.

In violation of the 2008 Federal Court Order, the City is destroying homeless people's property, including sleeping bags, blankets, urns with the ashes of relatives, and even winter coats. At 3:00 am the police department is extinguishing warming fires and confiscating firewood and making people move away from the sidewalks near Poverello House.

We will hold an interfaith press conference on Wednesday, December 21, and call on the City to stop violating the law and to stop making the difficult lives of the homeless even more difficult. We must love our neighbor and practice the ancient "Golden Rule".
§Press Conference Questions and Answers
by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Dec 21st, 2011 2:16 PM
Copy the following to embed the movie into another web page:
download video:

q___a_from_press_conference.m4v (106.9MB)

9:12 minutes

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Bill Simon
Wednesday Dec 21st, 2011 5:01 PM
PRESS CONFERENCE STATEMENT
DECEMBER 21, 2011

There are several thousand unsheltered homeless people living in the City of Fresno. And these poorest and most vulnerable members of our community are faced with a crisis caused by the illegal actions of the City of Fresno. As members of the Faith Community, we come from many houses of worship. Some of us are counted among those who place their faith primarily in the solidarity of all people. We all believe that we must love our neighbor as ourself.

We are here to say that the way the City of Fresno is treating our homeless brothers and sisters today is illegal, immoral, contrary to all religious principles, and just plain mean. And we are angry with our city officials.

The problem began when the city closed all the homeless encampments. This happened between October 27 and November 8 of this year, just as the weather turned cold and rainy. The City finished the job on December 8 with the destruction of the encampment at Broadway and San Benito. However, the City graciously decided to save Street Pastor Ray Polk's street 'Church' until March.

Dozens of people came to watch and photograph the City's and Caltrans' destruction of homeless people's property in flagrant disregard of the Federal Court Order issued in July of 2008. That Court order required the City to store any property for 90 days and said, if in doubt, store it. . I, myself, spent more than 30 hours documenting this illegal activity. I look forward to being on the witness stand when the City's callous disregard for the law comes to court.

On November 3, several members of the community went to the City Council meeting to protest this 'demolition derby'. Council Member Oliver Baines bawled us out for protesting the city's illegal activity instead of talking to the County which is in charge of social services.

On December 15, there was an item on the City Council's 'Consent Calendar' to outlaw camping on city property, with no discussion of the item. The penalty for 'camping' on city property would be a misdemeanor punished with 6 months in jail or a fine ranging from $250 to $1000. 'Camping' could include such terrible activity as sitting on a bench and covering up with a sleeping bag. Many homeless advocates contacted their Council Members and the item was pulled from the consent calendar so that the Council members could discuss it. About thirty members of the community came to speak against the proposed ordinance which was apparently put on the agenda by the City Manager. The Council Members clearly didn't know what the item was about.

By the end of the discussion, the Council decided that the proposed ordinance was aimed at Occupy Fresno and was meant to (unnecessarily) limit protesters' right to free speech. But, as written, the ordinance would also punish the homeless.

The City of Fresno and area social service agencies do get millions of federal dollars each year to help and house the homeless. One person at the City Council meeting said that the City does not take advantage of millions of dollars available to house the homeless. She meant that there is more money available. Based on that perhaps unclear statement, Council Members Borgeas, Westerlund and Baines bawled us out for not being factual, for complaining about the city's appalling behavior instead of talking to the county, for playing politics, and for thinking this was an anti-homeless ordinance rather than being merely an anti-Constitutionally guaranteed free speech ordinance.

The anti-camping ordinance failed to pass but by a 6-1 council vote it will be brought back to the Council, probably on January 5, after the City can talk to the County about passing the same anti-camping ordinance.

While many of us were at the City Council meeting, the City of Fresno was sending police officers and sanitation workers to F St and to Santa Clara St. They made the homeless remove their belongings from shopping carts and loaded the carts onto a truck. After taking the carts, the city trashed whatever property the homeless couldn't carry away, including coats, sleeping bags, blankets, and even two urns containing the ashes of family members. Those who were in Poverello house eating lunch or performing their 'service chores' or using other Poverello or Holy Cross services lost everything. Their personal property was sent to landfill in violation of the fourth amendment. As a result, many homeless face the likelihood of illness and even the possibility of death because they don't even have a coat to wear on these bitter cold nights. The police department is now coming at 3:00 am with fire extinguishers to douse the homeless people's warming fires and confiscate their firewood. And many don't even have a warm coat because the city has sent their coat to landfill.

Agencies working in the City and County of Fresno have found housing for about 1500 homeless people in recent years. But many thousands of homeless cannot be housed in even the distant future. We must develop a compassionate interim solution. The most frequent question I receive is "Where are they supposed to go?" I don't have an answer. The city's answer seems to be "Who cares? Anywhere that is out of sight."

City officials have repeatedly said they would like the Faith Community to become involved in the homeless situation in Fresno. Many Houses of Worship, as well as other members of the community, have been deeply involved in serving our homeless brothers and sisters. Today we officially say to the City and to the County that the Faith Community and the larger community are involved in serving our homeless brothers and sisters. And we are strongly opposed to what the city is doing.

Specifically, we call on the City of Fresno to immediately stop illegally destroying homeless people's property, including coats, sleeping bags, deceased relatives' ashes, and other property. Stop trashing the coats, sleeping bags, and blankets which the generous people of Fresno have donated for the homeless. We call on the City and the County of Fresno not to pass an anti-camping ordinance which would unnecessarily limit residents' right to free speech and cause additional hardship to the homeless. We call on the City and the County to cooperate with those members of the community who are seeking interim housing solutions for those who must wait for housing. Every homeless person needs and deserves some kind of shelter, even if tonight it can only be a sleeping bag or a tent. We call on the city to stop waking people in the middle of the night, extinguishing their warming fires, and taking their firewood.

No one should have to live in a tent. But it's better than living without a tent or without even a sleeping bag or blanket. The city is making the difficult life of the homeless even worse. And, in today's political and economic situation, most of us are only a layoff away from joining our homeless brothers and sisters.

If you or your House of Worship would like to become involved in a coordinated effort to serve our homeless brothers and sisters, please email homelessfr [at] sbcglobal.net.

I was on F St. Monday night, a little more than a half mile away from Poverello House, for a meeting about Occupy Fresno and about this press conference. At least five people greeted me on the street because they knew me from the closing of the encampments, when their housing was destroyed. I still find myself crying occasionally at that senseless destruction. These people have become my friends. And I can't find many of them today.

We all must care for the rights and well being of all of our brothers and sisters.

by Ann
Thursday Dec 22nd, 2011 12:45 PM
I hope some of those in the crowd run for office, for Mayor, City council. etc.
We need Bill to stay as chairperson for the homeless program.. but he too would make a great Mayor and move the City forward instead of deeper in a hole.

I hope Bill, that you post wour whole speech. It is really good and I would like to share with others.