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War on the Poor. . . Continues in Fresno

by Mike Rhodes (editor [at]
A new Fresno ordinance would ban homeless people from standing on medians and asking for money. The Fresno City Council gave tentative approval to the measure at its meeting yesterday. Nonprofit community groups wanting to solicit money from median strips would have to get a permit. Homeless people and their advocates called the measure discriminatory. Photo below: Al Williams and Carissa Phelps hold sign asking for help.
War on the Poor. . . Continues in Fresno
By Mike Rhodes

The Fresno City Council has passed, with a 6-1 vote, an ordinance that will remove homeless people from median islands while allowing established community groups to continue using the space for their fundraisers. Bill Simon, the chairperson of the Greater Fresno American Civil Liberties Union, called the measure discriminatory.

Simon said “perhaps Mr. Westerlund was well intentioned when he proposed this median safety ordinance, but on its face it has a discriminatory intent and motive against poor people, especially against the homeless while protecting two popular fundraisers - The Fresno Bee Day for Children’s Hospital and the Firefighters fundraiser. But, the equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution does not allow one set of rules for some people and another set for others. Equal treatment means everyone or no one. If fundraising on a median is unsafe for some, then it is unsafe for all.”

Fresno City Council member Larry Westerland defended his ordinance, saying that if “somebody who wanted to, up to one time every six months, they would be able to come in and there would be a form they would fill out, a one page form, it would be like here is my name, here is the median I would like to occupy on this date, whatever that date would be. We talked about a 48 hour notice before going out there.” Westerlund’s ordinance would require the applicant to pay a filling fee, provide proof of insurance, and require the use of a brightly colored vest.

Al Williams, a homeless man who says he uses the median islands to collect money, said the ordinance would discriminate against the poor. At yesterday’s City Council meeting, Williams said “you all beg for money when you run for office. Each of you all do. What makes you better than me? You know, you are a human being, just like a lot of the people out there are trying to make an honest dollar. Churches beg for money, Kids Day begs for money and the police department and the Fire department begs for money, but you want to criminalize a poor person for asking form money. That is inhumane and despicable.”

The city council voted 6-1 to support the ordinance, with council member Cynthia Sterling in opposition The measure returns to the City Council on February 11 for final approval. It could go into affect 60 or 90 days after that. But it’s likely to face a lawsuit. An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of northern California said “parts of the ordinance are likely invalid because they conflict with the California Vehicle Code.” A 2005 Brookings Institute report showed that Fresno has the highest concentration of poverty in the country. The “official” unemployment rate is currently 16.8%
§Audio Report (3:26 minutes)
by Mike Rhodes
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§Kids Day Fund Raiser
by Mike Rhodes
Under the new ordinance, upscale fundraisers like “Kids Day,” would be allowed to continue. They would be issued a permit. The ordinance, which was passed as a “public safety” measure, would only allow homeless people to apply for a permit once every six months. Council member Westerlund’s ordinance would require the applicant to pay a filling fee, provide proof of insurance, and require the use of a brightly colored vest. This led one homeless advocate in Fresno to update the famous quote by Anatole France. Here is the new version: "The Law (and the City of Fresno), in its majestic equality, forbids the poor as well as the rich to sleep under bridges, and to steal bread. However, it prohibits only the poor to beg in the street---to the rich it issues permits."
§Brian Calhoun
by Mike Rhodes
Brian Calhoun (photo above) first introduced an ordinance that would ban anyone from using the median islands about 2 years ago. Calhoun, when he runs for political office, sets up a table on street corners. He was termed out of his Fresno City Council seat and lost his bid for a Board of Supervisors seat in 2008.
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wow, the poor man (labelled himself as such...) who asked "y'all beg for money; churches beg for money" was eloquent!

This is really good reporting!

Thanks for sharing this.

by long time resident
I have been reading your reports on homelessness for quite some time. It appears you are genuinely concerned about them. I also have noticed that you do not think very highly of the established charities that deal with them, namely the Poverello House and the Rescue Mission. Is it because they are religious in nature? Do you oppose religious charities in general, or is there something particular about these specific charities?

Have you ever considered starting your own charity, one that would not be religiously focused? Really it could be done. I'm sure that there are many people who would join you and form a nonprofit agency. You could file for tax exempt status so contributors could get a tax deduction. You could apply for government grants. Look at how much money Genesis got in grants. Look at how much money the little town of Orange Cove gets in grants. Don't just focus on Fresno for donations. I'm sure you could branch out and solicit for donations from wealthy individuals and corporations.

Then you can buy distressed properties in foreclosure, preferably apartments, and house them. Help them develop living skills, coping skills, and drug and alcohol rehab. Work your way up one step at a time. You can't solve a huge problem overnight, but every little bit helps.

You seem to blame the capitalist structure for poverty and homelessness. It is very easy to rail against "the system", its quite another to actually do something about it. I'm not trying to be a troll, I have had a sincere interest in this problem. I have choosen my own methods of helping. But I don't like the status quo anymore than anyone else.
by Mike Rhodes

You are right, I do not think very highly of the Poverello House and the Rescue Mission. The Poverello House is a little better than The Rescue Mission. The Pov provides food for the homeless in an environment that is OK. They also provide some clothing, they have a dental clinic, showers, and some things the homeless need. What I object to is the way they have collaborated with the City of Fresno in the attacks on the homeless who live in the tents and other shelters outside their compound.

Poverello staff have complained about the homeless living in tents on the streets outside their facility and have helped the police evict them. This was particularly true when the city used bulldozers to attack them. The director of the Pov would be interviewed by the media and tell them how the encampments were dangerous and crime infested areas that needed to be cleaned up. They spoke up for the City of Fresno, defending them during the Federal Court hearings about the bulldozing.

The Pov also “hosts” the TOOL SHED CITY - their partner in this nefarious project is the City of Fresno. What this is about is tool sheds, like what you have in your back yard, and they put two homeless people in each one. There is no heating, no cooling, no running water. It is totally non-compliant with code enforcement. If you were to put your mother in one of these tool sheds, you would probably be arrested for elder abuse. But, somehow the Pov and the City of Fresno has no problem putting homeless people in these tin cans.

The Rescue Mission is in a whole different league. I really don’t like The Rescue Mission and some of this does have to do with their religious orientation. They are fundamentalist Christians. In order to get a place to sleep for the night, you have to sit through a religious service. The bunks at The Mission are for men only. The Mission has an Academy and the men, many of whom are court ordered, are forced by the director to attack homeless encampments. I have seen this with my own eyes. The director, Larry Arce, admitted in Federal Court that he orders his staff to destroy homeless peoples property if it is near his facility. The time I witnessed the disciples destroying homeless people’s property, it was about a block from The Mission. The guys were not happy about what they had to do, but it was either follow orders or go back to jail.

In one case a woman had her property taken by the goons at The Mission. She and some friends from the Catholic Worker went into The Mission and found a blanket and some other items of hers in the dumpster. They took the women’s property and started to leave The Mission. Arce called the police and told them the women was stealing his property. Now that takes some pretty BIG HUEVOS.

There was a lawsuit filed by several homeless victims of Arce’s goon squads. There was an out of court settlement and ever since them Arce, AKA The King of G Street, has been a little more careful about who he pushes around.

So, there you have it. That is why I’m not a big fan of the Poverello House and Rescue Mission. I see them as the model of how the homeless issue used to be addressed - in other words you have social service providers who are maintaining “business as usual,” providing the cover for the City of Fresno who constantly attacks the homeless. These organizations suck up dollars from local, state, and federal agencies who are creating the illusion that they are doing something to end homelessness. The homeless people I know are less kind - they simply call Arce and those of his ilk POVERTY PIMPS.

If you really want to end homelessness, you put people in housing. The fact that we simultaneously have thousands of homeless people on the streets of Fresno and thousands of vacant, foreclosed, and bank owned houses is evidence of the failure of the economic and political system. Yes, I think capitalism has failed to meet the needs of the homeless.
by Long time resident
Thank you for your response. Like I said, I'm not trying to be a troll. I just want to understand everyones point of view. I guess we both agree that the status quo is unacceptable, we mainly disagree on the methods to address it. Since the problem is multifaceted, a multifaceted approach is necessary. I personally have chosen the one person at a time method of addressing this problem.

I still think a nonprofit that can apply for government grants (there is lots of money out there, look at Orange Cove) can have a great impact by leasing or buying distressed properties in foreclosure. The Rescue Mission and Poverello House get a lot of money in donations. The money is out there.
by City of Fresno (communications [at]
Last week, KMPH26 ran an excellent two-part story on the 10 Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, which has been adopted by the City and County of Fresno. In addition to talking with local sources, including Greg Barfield – City of Fresno Homeless Policy and Prevention Manager - KMPH reporter Norma Yuriar traveled to San Jose to learn about that city’s successful efforts. A variety of best practices from San Jose and other cities across the state and nation are being implemented in Fresno as well. Norma’s reporting is an excellent, and objective, primer on an important issue for our community. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch.
Part 1:
Part 2:
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