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Homeless Evictions Heat up in Fresno

by Mike Rhodes (mikerhodes)
With temperatures going up to 111 degrees today, City of Fresno crews were busy pushing homeless people from a shady overpass. There is no safe place for the over 8,000 homeless people to go. The mayor has reneged on a promise to provide them with a safe place to go.
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Homeless Evictions Heat up in Fresno
By Mike Rhodes

The city of Fresno evicted a group of homeless people that lived in the shade of an overpass today. The location of the encampment, on Santa Fe street south of Ventura in downtown Fresno, is significant because of the heat. Weather forecasters have said today might be the hottest day of the summer - 111 degrees. For the homeless people who lived under the overpass, the shade made life a little more bearable. For background information about this eviction, which the city calls a “clean up” see: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/07/02/18432723.php .

About one month ago, the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans forced about 50 homeless people from another shady encampment. See: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/06/12/18427051.php . The problem, according to a number of homeless people I have spoken with, is that there is no place for them to go. Cynthia Greene is one of the homeless people who was evicted from the Caltrans property last month. There is now a fence up at that location. She moved her tent to G street and California, a spot that has no shade. Cynthia says “it got so hot in my tent yesterday that even the flies weren’t moving.”

Alan Autry, the mayor of Fresno, promised the homeless a “free zone” where they could live without fear of being evicted. That was on April 17, 2007 and he insisted that the media hold him accountable to a 60 day time line. To date, there is no place in Fresno where homeless people can live without being caught up in a sweep, like the one that happened today. The mayor’s pledge to help the homeless has not been fulfilled. The city is considering buying a lot in the industrial section of downtown for the homeless, but business owners in the area are up in arms about the plan. It is a classic case of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) ism, but that opposition could prove to be an insurmountable hurdle. In addition, several homeless people testified before the City Council recently that they did not like the proposed location or the condition of the lots either. Al Williams, who is a homeless man in the Roeding Park area and Cynthia Greene (mentioned above), complained about the plan saying there is no shade. They also compared the site to a concentration camp. See: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/06/20/18428838.php

According to Phillip Withers, head of the Fresno Sanitation Department, today’s clean up on Santa Fe went smoothly. When asked if the city would continue to “clean up” this particular area or if this was a one time effort, he said “if this place stays clean we won’t have to be back.” Several Fresno Police Department (FPD) officers on the scene said they were just there to keep the peace and assist if needed.

The operation started last Friday when signs were posted telling homeless residents they had until today at 9 AM to leave. If property remained, it would be stored for 90 days, and could be reclaimed by the owner. This policy is in place as a result of a preliminary injunction a Federal Court issued to the City of Fresno (see http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/11/23/18332519.php ). Last weekend, FPD officer Rey Wallace returned with a crew and took everyone’s shopping carts.

Today, one FPD officer told me the homeless had helped the clean up crew to determine what was trash and what could be thrown out. Withers said that he was not aware of any assistance given to his workers to help them determine what was of value and what was trash. Items that the sanitation workers determined to be of value were put into a large container and saved. Those items they felt had no value were thrown into the back of a garbage truck and destroyed. The city had a staff member video the entire operation.

Several homeless people who lived at the Santa Fe street encampment could be seen a short distance from the clean up operation. One of them asked me if it would be safe to go back when the clean up operation is over.

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

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§Trashing Homeless Peoples Property
by Mike Rhodes
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Sanitation Department head Philip Withers observes me as I observe the “clean up.” How do they determine what is trash and what is of value? It appears to be a decision that each sanitation worker decides on his/her own.
§Somebody Won't be using their Wheelchair Tonight
by Mike Rhodes
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This wheelchair and the neatly folded blankets and clothes on it were removed.
§Confrontation
by Mike Rhodes
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The police told me they were there to keep the peace. Here an officer approaches Lupe Garcia, who is homeless. Lupe was taking what she could before her property was either destroyed or stored. The officer appeared to be encouraging Garcia to move faster. Lupe gestured that she was moving as quickly as she could.
§Storage Container
by Mike Rhodes
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All photos by Mike Rhodes
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