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Indybay Feature

More Homeless Women Speak Out in Fresno

by Mike Rhodes (MikeRhodes [at] Comcast.net)
This is a first hand account of what it is like to be homeless in Fresno.
550joanna.jpg

More Homeless Women Speak Out in Fresno
By Mike Rhodes

To understand what it is like to be homeless in Fresno, you need to hear first hand from people like Joanna and Pam (see their stories below). The Community Alliance newspaper ran the stories of two other homeless women in the November 2006 issue. The article can also be read here: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/10/25/18323305.php .

The City of Fresno has been issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop them from taking and immediately destroying homeless people’s property. A hearing will be held on Tuesday, November 7 to get a preliminary injunction that will be in effect until the court has an opportunity to settle the lawsuit. See: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/10/17/18321050.php for more information about the lawsuit. See: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/10/19/18321616.php for more information about the TRO.

Even with the TRO, homeless people’s property is being taken and immediately destroyed. See: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/11/05/18326764.php for details about these most recent attacks. An article will be posted to the Central Valley Indymedia site following the hearing on Tuesday in Federal court.

Here is the story of Joanna Garcia and Pamela Jo Streeter:

Joanna Garcia

I was born and raised in Fresno. Until a few years ago, I had a secure job and a family. I worked as a house manager at a group home for developmentally disabled adults. I had worked at one group home for 5 years, and had been working in various group homes for 12 years. That all changed when my husband, who abused me, decided to drive my truck to rob a house. I was at work at the time, but my husband took my bright blue 1957 Chevy Classic, and parked it right in front of the house he robbed. He did not tell me what he had done, and he dropped the truck off for me to drive while I was at work, even though I had nothing to do with it and was at work when it happened A few people from my work saw the arrest, and as a result, I was fired. Later, all charges against me were dropped. Even though the charges were dropped, a person from community care licensing wrote a letter about the incident that has prevented me from getting any other work in that field. I was 40 years old and had never before been arrested, but as a result of this incident, I became homeless. I have asthma and need to use an inhaler. I currently work 5 or 6 days a week at the Holy Cross Women’s Center and receive payment for that work in food vouchers. I also work part time for an independent newspaper. However, I cannot afford to pay the security deposit and first and last month’s rent on an apartment.

During the past year, I have witnessed many occasions when the police and City of Fresno workers come to take the belongings of homeless people. The City has taken some or all of my belongings approximately five times since January 2006. None of that property has been returned. I believe almost all of it was destroyed. I do not recall the exact dates of each of these events, but below is my best recollection of the City raids in which I lost the most property.

In March or April 2006, my belongings and my boyfriend’s belongings were on the grassy strip across the highway from E Street. They were neatly kept. My boyfriend and I had left for the day; I was working at Holy Cross. When we came back that evening, I said to my boyfriend, "I can’t see our home." All of our belongings were gone, including tents, blankets, personal papers, clothes, my pink bicycle, and irreplaceable pictures of my grandmother and my son. I also lost my son’s ponytail; I had grown his hair out when he was little, and I still had the ponytail from when I finally let him get it cut. At that time of year, it was raining a lot, and we could not stay dry without our tents and blankets. At Holy Cross during that time, we had 500 blankets that were all given out in one week, because the City had taken property from so many people.

During the first week of May 2006, the City came again and took my belongings. I was on E Street at the time, with my neatly packed belongings. Again, I lost everything I had accumulated for shelter, including a tent, blankets, and clothes. Worst of all, at that time, the police took my dog and her brand new puppies. The puppies were just a few days old. I tried to save the puppies instead of all the rest of my belongings, and Officer Wallace assured me that they would not be taken with the rest of my property. Despite these assurances, the City workers took my dog and her puppies. Eventually, the dogs were all put to sleep at the pound. I was heartbroken.

Then, in August 2006 – I believe it was Saturday, August 26, 2006, we received some notice that the City was going to come and take all our belongings if we did not move them. At the time, I was at work, and my belongings were on the CalTrans strip of land on E Street, around the corner from the Poverello House. The notice the City gave was confusing. First, on Friday at 11:00, they told us we had one hour to move everything. Then, someone called Liza Apper, an advocate for homeless people, who negotiated with the City to give us longer. That afternoon, the Mayor came, and the City crews did not confiscate everything right away. As a result of the conflicting messages, we were not sure when or whether City workers would actually take our belongings. By the time City crews came on Saturday morning, I had moved most of my belongings, but I was not able to save the cart that had my medication, including some of my blankets and clothing. The City put up fences on the CalTrans strip of land on E Street.

As a result of the new fences on E Street, Cynthia Greene and I moved our property to the other side of the fences, near the bridge on Santa Clara that goes over the highway. We had all of our things neatly packed into carts. The very next morning, I believe on Sunday, August 27, we saw a police car, a garbage truck, a scooper truck, and some City pickup trucks parked across E Street, in front of the dairy. We thought they might go around the corner to the people camped near the Poverello House. Very soon after we noticed them there, the vehicles all came close to where we were. The police came and told us we had seven minutes to move our belongings, or else they would take our belongings. We each grabbed one cart of the four or five carts we had, and started moving them across the street. A friend of ours, Terry, saw what was happening, and he started to come over to help. However, as soon as Cynthia and I started moving away with one cart each, the scooper truck came in and started picking up the rest of our property. The scooper put all of it directly into the dump truck. We had four or five carts, and even though we ran back to tell the workers that we had a place to move everything, they continued to take and throw away our personal property. Meanwhile, other City employees were sitting in their cars and laughing. Even though we could have moved our belongings with just a little time, they started scooping things up only about 30 seconds after they warned us to move. As a result, I lost my medication, including inhalers for my asthma and antibiotics, lots of important personal papers, my ID, food, tents, blankets and sleeping bags.

I have repeatedly lost belongings that had personal meaning, as well as belongings I needed for survival, as a result of the City’s actions. City employees have consistently treated me like I am not a person. Based upon my experience, wherever I go as a homeless person in the City of Fresno, the City of Fresno workers, accompanied by the Fresno Police Department, will come to take and destroy my personal possessions. This has happened to me several times already and I believe it will happen again. The City of Fresno has made it clear to me by destroying my property and by the way in which they did that, that because I am a homeless person, I will always be vulnerable to having my property taken and destroyed by City of Fresno workers and police.

Pamela Jo Streeter

My name is Pamela Jo Streeter. I am 48 years old and I currently live in Fresno, California. I am currently unemployed and unable to afford housing. I have very limited income, usually only $5-$6 a day that I earn from gathering cans and bringing them to be recycled. At times, I have lived at the Naomi House, which I believe is the only facility for homeless women in Fresno. However, the Naomi House is generally full and so I often cannot stay there. In addition, I am currently in a relationship with Doug Deatherage, and we are hoping to be married in the near future. There are no facilities in Fresno for couples in our situation that I know about. As a result, I have lived in a tent in Fresno for the past several months. I hope that in the future, Doug and I will be able to find work and provide for our own housing. Right now, however, we simply do not have the means to provide housing for ourselves and therefore are homeless.

My property has been taken by City of Fresno workers on two occasions. To the best of my recollection, the first time was around June 22, 2006. While I am not entirely certain of the exact date, I recall very well what happened. That morning, Doug and I had our tents on a strip of land between E street and the highway in Fresno. Police and city workers arrived that morning, and it was obvious that they intended to clear out the strip of land where our tents were. That was the first time I had been told that the City of Fresno planned to come to this area that morning to take people’s property from the area. I had not received any notice of what they were planning

As soon as we saw the police and City of Fresno workers, Doug and I picked up all of our belongings, and moved our tents and belongings to the sidewalk on the other side of the street. We thought we would be safe there, because it looked like the City workers were only destroying things on the side of the street where we originally were. But then the City workers came for our belongings. When they came for our belongings, I told them that the tents and carts and everything in them belonged to me. I begged the police officers and city workers not to take them because they were my possessions and, at the time, basically all that I owned. I literally begged to be allowed to keep my possessions. However, a City of Fresno police officer pushed me out of the way. At the same time, he threatened me stating that if I did not get out of the way, I would be going to jail. Although I was crying and pleading with the officers and the workers not to take our things, the City of Fresno workers took all of our property, including our tents, and threw them into a dumpster. I was given no opportunity to move my property or to save it, and no opportunity to retrieve it after been taken, even though I was there and ready and willing to take it and move it out of the way. Instead, it was immediately destroyed.

That morning, the City of Fresno took and destroyed essentially all of the personal possessions that I owned at the time, except the clothes that I was wearing. These included medicine, both for me and my dog; my sleeping bag; all my clothes except the ones I was wearing at the time; my coat and a jacket; my shoes; my personal papers including an address book and letters from my family that were extremely important to me; and personal hygiene supplies.

The City of Fresno workers also destroyed something even more precious to me that can never be replaced. Among my personal possessions at the time was an urn that contained the ashes of my granddaughter who had passed away. There are truly no words that can express how important this was to me and how important it was to me to be able to have this close by. That morning, the City of Fresno workers destroyed the urn and my granddaughter's ashes. At the time, I had been restrained by the police and threatened that I would be put in jail if I interfered. As a result, I had no choice but to watch as they destroyed my granddaughter’s remains.

The second time that the City workers took my property was around August 26, 2006. I had heard the day before that they intended to come into the area near E Street, which is where I was living. As a result of what happened in June, at this time I had far fewer personal possessions. At the time, I understood that the City of Fresno workers intended to come through the strip of land adjacent to E Street in Fresno which was a place that several homeless people lived at the time. So, I made sure my remaining possessions were not in that area because I did not want to have repeated what had happened to me before.

On August 26, 2006, my remaining possessions were near the E Street area but not in the area that the City of Fresno and the police had come before and I had no knowledge that they intended to sweep much more broadly than they had before. Nevertheless, the City of Fresno workers went far more broadly and again took my possessions. There was no need to take my possessions. My relatively small amount of personal possessions were not bothering anyone and I was ready and willing to move them if the City of Fresno workers wanted to clean the area where they were. It was obvious that my property was not abandoned since I was there with it. Even though I was present and able to move my belongings, the City of Fresno workers took most of my remaining belongings, including clothing that I had been able to acquire in the meantime, shoes, and personal items, and threw them into the garbage truck for immediate destruction. I was given no opportunity to move my personal property in order to save it from this destruction. I was given no opportunity to retrieve my personal property or save it from destruction.

Based upon my experience, wherever I go as a homeless person in the City of Fresno, the City of Fresno workers, accompanied by the Fresno Police Department, will come to take and destroy my personal possessions. This has happened to me twice already and I believe it will happen again. The City of Fresno has made it clear to me by destroying my property twice and by the way in which they did that, that because I am a homeless person, I will always be vulnerable to having my property taken and destroyed by City of Fresno workers and police.

###

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let them eat cake
Thu, Dec 14, 2006 11:41AM
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