By Mike Rhodes
The City of Fresno followed through on their threats to destroy homeless encampments in the downtown area last month by bringing in bulldozers, garbage trucks and sanitation workers who knocked down and hauled away dozens of shelters. City spokespersons say they are determined to stop any encampments from reemerging. To accomplish that goal, the Fresno Police Department has established a task force to keep the homeless on the move.
Homeless advocates have responded by calling on the City Council to set up safe and legal places where homeless people can live. They argue that until the City of Fresno has enough housing, homeless people need a place to live that provides basic public services (e.g., drinking water, trash pickup, toilets). City Manager Bruce Rudd told the advocates they should take their complaints to representatives at the County of Fresno. Homeless advocates reminded Rudd that it was the City of Fresno and not the county that was bulldozing the encampments and chasing homeless people from one vacant lot to another.
Most of the homeless living in downtown Fresno seem to be adjusting to the new dictates of City Hall. Many of them sleep on the sidewalks near the Poverello House and the Rescue Mission, get up early in the morning and move on, returning in the evening. Many homeless people have moved to other areas of the downtown area, like the Fulton Mall and Courthouse Park, and some have moved into north Fresno. While there is frustration within the homeless community over the new city policy, they are resigned to this new reality. There has been shockingly little resistance to what will likely lead to a number of homeless people freezing to death this winter because they lack shelter and other basic necessities.
One of the tools homeless advocates have used in the past is to file lawsuits based on the City of Fresno’s actions—usually because they have taken and immediately destroyed homeless people’s property. According to many observers at the demolitions, the city’s practices have evolved to the point where they are technically not violating homeless people’s constitutional rights. No litigation is anticipated based on the actions during these last demolitions.
Forcing the homeless to carry their property with them all day long will certainly make life more difficult for Fresno’s most unfortunate. Not having a neighbor you can trust will likely make some people (particularly homeless women) more vulnerable to predators who victimize them. Dispersing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless people throughout the city (with no place to go to the bathroom) is unlikely to improve the health and public safety in this community.
There are several groups of homeless advocates that are attempting to improve life and restore dignity and respect to their homeless brothers and sisters who are on the mean streets of Fresno. You can see what they are up to and contact them by visiting www.helpfresnoshomeless.org.
Mike Rhodes is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.