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

Central Valley | Health, Housing, and Public Services

Homeless Encampments Targeted (Again)
by Mike Rhodes ( editor [at] fresnoalliance.com )
Tuesday Jul 30th, 2013 9:38 AM
Lori Bryson and William Lewis

In the next couple of weeks, homeless people who live in downtown Fresno will be forced from their shelters and told to move on. The driving force of this relocation is the Poverello House, which is a homeless service center located at Santa Clara and F streets.

Poverello House staff have been complaining for some time now about the homeless encampments that have developed outside their gates. They claim these encampments are a magnet for crime and violence, which makes it more difficult for their clients to walk through a gauntlet to get to their facility. Adding credibility to their claim were several shootings in July, with one person killed and another paralyzed.

At about the same time as the late August demolitions at the homeless encampments take place, the Poverello House will be closing some or all of the Village of Hope, which are tool sheds where more than 100 people live. The combination of this closure and the eviction of the homeless people living near the Poverello House will create a massive dislocation, with no solution in sight.

The City of Fresno has focused on developing partnerships with groups providing housing for a limited number of homeless people. The three Renaissance projects are an example of this effort, but they house only 118 of the estimated 15,000 homeless people in Fresno. There are no construction projects for new homeless housing currently planned.

There has been renewed talk of housing vouchers being distributed, with the likely number being well under 100. There are more than 1,000 homeless people in downtown Fresno, and there is no safe and legal place for them to live. They have put up shelters around the Poverello House because that is where they can get free meals and services. The Rescue Mission, which has beds for homeless men (only), does not allow anyone to use them unless they are in a rehabilitation program.

The problem with drugs and violence in the homeless encampments is real and has been exacerbated by the Fresno Police Department’s hands-off approach. Most of the homeless people don’t feel protected by the police, and the police have, until recently, not made servicing the area a high priority. I have seen open drug sales taking place on street corners, domestic violence takes place regularly and, in many respects, gangs fill in the void and are the law of the land.

At least that was true until mid-July when the police made a concerted effort to take back control of Santa Clara and F streets with a massive presence. One homeless resident told me, “They are driving through here every five minutes.” Another man told me that he was put on the curb and illegally searched.

A homeless woman said, “They came into my shelter and asked me what I was doing there.” She said she was “trying to survive without people breaking into my house.”

The all-or-nothing police response at the homeless encampments leaves you wondering why they have abandoned them or alternatively that they are overreacting, possibly violating people’s constitutional rights.

When the evictions from the Village of Hope and new demolitions of the homeless encampments near the Poverello House take place, people will be forced to find new places to live. Of course, the locations where homeless people establish new encampments will create situations that lead to the next round of evictions. Some homeless advocates have compared this cycle to a cruel version of Whack a Mole.

Here is what happens when the homeless are forced out of downtown Fresno.

William Lewis and his friend Lori Bryson are homeless and live in the Herndon and Blackstone area. Lewis called the Community Alliance to complain of police harassment, saying they had been arrested and taken downtown, for allegedly “blocking a sidewalk and trespassing.” Lewis told me that the officer who threatened him with arrest issued a citation and took him and Lori to the downtown police department for processing.

“Officer Lee threatened to take our two dogs from us if he sees us anywhere north of the Poverello House,” Lewis said. He claims Officer Lee told him “that if I’m north of the Poverello House and see him coming for Lori and I to empty our pockets, put our hands behind our backs and to consider ourselves under arrest.” Lewis says he is having a hard time sleeping from all the stress.

Another example of the problems encountered when homeless people are forced out of downtown and end up in other parts of the city is what happened on July 17, when an encampment emerged on a ditch bank near Ashlan and West avenues in northwest Fresno. When I arrived, the Fresno Irrigation District (FID) was in the middle of destroying the encampment and everybody’s property.

Most of the structures had already been pulled out of the protective shrubbery on the southwest side of the canal bank. A bulldozer was busy picking up homeless people’s property and putting it in a dump truck.

I asked Murray, who said he was a supervisor for the FID, if they were saving any of the property. He said they had not found anything of value yet, but I think my question got him thinking about the implications of their actions. Murray said that they had put up notices informing the homeless people that they were going to “clean up.” I asked for a copy of the notice, and he said he didn’t have one.

I walked away for a moment to take some photos and when I came back the driver of the machine with the large claw (see photos at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/07/17/18739952.php ) said, “We don’t have time for this shit. Call the police.”

Someone (probably Murray) must have convinced the crew that they better make a show for the press because then they started going through the shopping carts and putting things aside, which they said they were going to save.

The FID frequently destroys homeless encampments. It is rare when someone photographs them in the act. The Community Alliance has filed a California Public Records Act request to see if the FID actually did store any property and to find out how the homeless can reclaim whatever was lost. Sometimes the items destroyed or saved include clothes, ID, photographs of loved ones and other valuable items.

The kind of reckless behavior being displayed by the FID is what has the City of Fresno facing multiple lawsuits from their October–November 2011 destruction of homeless encampments. The wheels of justice are turning slowly in that case, which will eventually end up in Federal Court. Right now, both sides are still in the discovery phase of court proceedings, interviewing witnesses, etc. The fact that 30-plus homeless people have sued the City of Fresno for violating their rights has curbed City Hall’s enthusiasm for taking a more aggressive approach against the homeless.

One way this manifests itself is by providing minimal police and other services. For months, the city did not provide any trash service. It still refuses to provide drinking water or portable toilets. As a concession to residents of West Fresno who complained about the health and safety implications of large piles of trash on the streets, the city now cleans up once every three weeks.

The Community Alliance is providing portable toilets and trash bins at the downtown homeless encampments. We also pay a previously homeless man to maintain the portable toilets, keep them supplied with TP and clean the trash off the streets. The four large dumpsters and 10 portable toilets help keep the streets cleaner, but more is needed.

The City of Fresno’s policy of chasing the homeless from one location to another is not going to end homelessness. It is not going to improve homeless people’s lives and does not move us one step closer to a solution. What would help is if the community started to establish safe and legal places where the homeless could live. These facilities would have basic public services and the people living in them would be treated with the same dignity and respect that everyone deserves.

If you would like to do something concrete to help the homeless in Fresno, you can drop off rolls of toilet paper at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence (1584 N. Van Ness Ave.) Monday–Friday 11 a.m.–3 p.m. You can also mail a contribution to help pay for the portable toilets and trash bins to the Community Alliance, P.O. Box 5077, Fresno, CA 93755 (make the check to “Eco-Village Project”). All of the contributions are used to help the homeless; nothing is used to pay for administrative or other overhead expenses.
###
The Fresno Bee printed a front page article, in the Tuesday, July 30 2013 edition, about the demolitions of downtown homeless encampments. See: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/07/29/3413693/three-big-homeless-camps-in-fresno.html

*****
Mike Rhodes is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at editor [at] fresnoalliance.com.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Mike Rhodes
( editor [at] fresnoalliance.com ) Tuesday Jul 30th, 2013 5:24 PM
After reading this article a homeless person wrote: I read your article on Indybay.org about the Pov closing the Villages. Wow. Really? Do we have any rights to fight or delay eviction there, or can they toss all of us out without due notice (or viable housing alternatives)? What legal recourse do we have, if any?

***

Here is my response:

If the Poverello House wants to remove everyone from the Tool Sheds, they can legally do that. It looks to me like the City of Fresno has declared war on the homeless and I think the only way this current attack can be stopped is if the homeless figured out some way to build a movement to demand better treatment from the city. I don't think you can count on anyone else to intervene and save the day. Without homeless people themselves being willing to stand up and demand respect, you will get nothing but endless attacks from the city. If I were homeless, I would organize my fellow homeless friends and allies to move to City Hall and camp out there. If 1,000 homeless people camped out at City Hall, the ruling elite in this city would start to take the issue seriously. If you don't do something soon, they are going to roll over you and give you basically three options:

1. Get out of town.
2. Get into a program (drug, alcohol, mental health, etc).
3. Die

The 4th alternative is for you to stand up and fight for the right to exist. I would encourage you to go with option #4.

Mike Rhodes
Editor
Community Alliance Newspaper
PO Box 5077
Fresno Ca 93755
(559) 978-4502 (cell)
editor [at] fresnoalliance.com
http://www.fresnoalliance.com
by Dan Waterhouse
Tuesday Jul 30th, 2013 6:31 PM
...Mike-you're now complaining about the Pov shutting down the sheds? Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you complain long and hard how terrible they were when they were put in? Waffling now Mike?
by Beverly Fitzpatrick
Tuesday Jul 30th, 2013 7:24 PM
First thank you Mike for the writing your article. The City Press Conference tells just one side of the story.

For months I have been shocked by the attitude and now actions of the personal in the main shelter area of Fresno, (Poverello House, Holy Cross Center and The Rescue Mission) toward human beings who are struggling just to survive. I believe every human being should be treated with dignity!

As one of those who has chosen to serve the homeless living on the streets, near canal banks, in bushes or behind a buildings I have found those I come in contact with, weekly, to be grateful for a kind word, water, and other basics. Many would like to live in a safe and legal area, as Mike's suggests. However, three years ago, when a group of homeless advocates worked for months on developing a plan for a safe and legal campground, with location suggestions and all, they were told by the City that The City could not discuss the idea because of the lawsuits that were pending (which wasn't true).

So, once again The City is planning to evict about 1000 people with no plan as to what these people are to do...brilliant!

by Mike Rhodes
Tuesday Jul 30th, 2013 9:43 PM
Responding to Dan: The convergence of the eviction of homeless people from the Tool Sheds and from all of the homeless encampments in the downtown area is unfortunate. It will exacerbate an already difficult situation. Personally, I think the Tool Sheds are a shameful way to house human beings. If I were to put my mother in the tool shed in our backyard, I would be arrested for elder abuse. I think we can do better. That said, a number of homeless people have told me they are better than the alternative of sleeping on the sidewalk. So, Dan - you decide whether the tool sheds are a good option for the homeless or not. The point is that the City of Fresno has declared war on the homeless. The question is - how will those affected by this new policy react. My hope is that they will organize and defend their right to live with dignity.
by Robert Norse
Wednesday Jul 31st, 2013 3:14 AM
I'm expecting to interview Mike Thursday August 1st shortly after 7 PM. The show will stream at http://tunein.com/radio/FRSC-s47254/ and archive at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb130801.mp3 (an hour into the audio file). Folks who want to call in can do so at 831-469-3119.

Many earlier interviews with him can be found by searching the website for "Rhodes" at http://www.huffsantacruz.org/brb-descriptions.html (particularly 2006-2010).

by Dan
Wednesday Jul 31st, 2013 11:35 AM
...Mike, that the City has maneuvered you into a place where your credibility has been severely damaged. The Bee stated the following: the City did a deal about a year ago with "advocates" where the city would take a hands off approach to the encampments if the "advocates" dealt with camp issues. The Bee also states that advocates placed porta potties in the encampments but they became a means of extorting money from other residents. The encampments have been a health hazard for some time, along with the crime according to Bruce Rudd.

The City can now say "see, we tried to work with this group but they still sued us and they failed to deliver. Why should anyone pay any attention to any thing they say now?" I believe Rudd, who is extremely bright, has placed you in a no-win situation with the larger community.

The homeless rise up? Not a chance. A few might, but the vast majority want no problems with the authorities. They will lay low and hunker down. I expect to see a similar campaign out around Woodward Park and the river bottom by the city and county in the near future.
by Mike Rhodes
Wednesday Jul 31st, 2013 12:14 PM
Responding to Dan’s most recent comment: There was no such deal between Rudd and any homeless advocates. I asked Fresno Bee writer George Hostetter to tell me who Bruce was referring to, when he said he had made a deal. Here is George’s reply: “I asked Bruce, but he wouldn't tell.” So, The Bee reported the deal as fact, with no evidence that such an agreement ever took place. Of course, Bruce has said that to discredit me and other homeless advocates. It is simply a lie.

Regarding the assertion that homeless people were being charged to use the toilets. I have never seen that happen. No homeless person has ever told me that happened. Again, where is the proof? We monitor, clean, and supply the toilets with toilet paper every day. If there was a problem like that, someone would probably have told me.

We did move two toilets to a better location because of the abuse that was taking place - people were putting clothing in the toilets and the service could not clean it out. There were a few other problems as well. So, we moved them around the corner where they are doing just fine.

Dan - seriously, you shouldn’t so readily believe everything people say about me.
I have no illusion that I can compete with the City of Fresno and the Fresno Bee as they weave their web of lies about me. What I can do, is share with those who know me, the truth about what is going on. My hope is that some people (especially people that know me) will not assume the worst as this character assassination picks up steam.
POLICE DEPARTMENT

July 26, 2013

TO: ALL SWORN PERSONNEL

FROM: LIEUTENANT ANTHONY MARTINEZ

Southwest District Commander

SUBJECT: CITY OF FRESNO HOMELESS TASK FORCE


The City of Fresno has authorized the creation of a new city task force to prevent the establishment of encampments within the City of Fresno, as well as addressing other quality of life and safety issues involving the homeless. (Shopping carts, panhandling, median islands, recycle centers, street crimes, code violations, etc.)

The team will consist of the following: 1 Police Sergeant, 4 Police Officers, 2 Code Enforcement Officers, and 2 Community Sanitation workers. This team will have 7 day week coverage.

This is a "Temporary" assignment and at the end of the 12 month period ALL team members will return to their previous assignments.

Sergeant Dewey has been designated as the sergeant in charge of the unit. We will be conducting interviews during the week of August 5th. As a reminder, to be eligible, you have to be on the current special units list or in a special unit.

If you are interested, please forward a Request for Consideration and your most recent evaluation to Lieutenant Martinez by Friday August 2, 2013.

rpb
by Dan Waterhouse
Friday Aug 2nd, 2013 12:47 PM
...is no great surprise to me. I've been aware for quite a while the City has been pressured to take action in regards to encampments and quality of life issues citywide. For example, a small camp near Fashion Fair became of concern to residents several months ago. They were told the city could not do anything because of legal concerns; that did not sit well with concerned neighbors. Within the last couple of weeks Channel 26 profiled neighborhood problems with an encampment near West and Shields, and neighbors' outrage the city would not do anything.

I've been very concerned residents will take matters into their own hands. That's been the tone of discussions on a Facebook page devoted to crime problems in the Tower District.

I suspect this task force will be working citywide, and that camps in areas around Woodward Park and Herndon Avenue will be among its targets. The river bottom has been a concern also. The shopping center at Palm and Nees has taken measures with the old Stewart & Nuss access road and security vigorously chases off people trying to access the river bottom there. The large fire last year in the bottom that some regard as a terrorist act because of the methods used to start it prompted the aggressive changes. Much of the debate about the Spano Ranch trail centers around how it might impact the surrounding area.
Disregarding any hostile distractions, these ideas that "deals were made" should be explored and explained.
I find it side-splitting that anyone thinks the city has been clever in any regard.
Theyre just looking for more trouble for the completely underserved taxpayer with no
upside or mitigation to the real problem.
Anyone supporting these foolish, heartless, expensive and ineffective wastes of law and code enforcement resources has their head too deeply implanted to bother forming a rescue team.
Lets move towards working together to resist and resolve.
It only takes 20 people.
We have seen it before.
Lets not get sidetracked or buffaloed by imps.
Lets set the agenda and end this misery the right way.
by Dan
Wednesday Aug 7th, 2013 1:35 PM
was on scene reporting awhile ago today one of the encampments burnt down.
by Linda Johnson
Thursday Sep 19th, 2013 2:28 AM
It seems there could be some concessions for this population. What leads to homelessness? They often find jobs that do not pay enough for survival, or lack skills in todays job market. Many have mental illness. It seems like it would help to provide them with psychiatric care, education, so they could be self supporting. Many need additional nutrition, medical and dental care. Providing rehabilitation for drug and alcohol, would help.Cities often seize homes for unpaid taxes, and these could be renovated for the homeless, rather than sold. Why not have fund raisers or contact the Hollywood film industry and see if they could work on this project, and help with donations. People living in the streets in poverty can only be changed, with compassion, and a new approach.