By Mike Rhodes
Did the City of Fresno really use federal money intended to help the poor and bulldoze homeless shelters with it? Why was it necessary for a federal judge to order the city to stop violating homeless people’s constitutional rights? And how many homeless people have died prematurely as a result of government officials’ violent, corrupt and illegal conduct?
The publication of my new book in February 2016 is the culmination of more than a decade of reporting on the homeless issue in Fresno, mostly for the Community Alliance newspaper. Much of the information comes from articles previously published, but a significant amount is new and is from California Public Records Act requests, recent interviews and research. You will read about the relentless attacks against the homeless in this city, the fightback that has taken place and what needs to be done to end homelessness.
This book takes all of the fragmented pieces of the story and combines them into a narrative that gives a complete picture of the drama that took place in Fresno over the last 14 years. The perspective in Dispatches from the War Zone: Homelessness in Fresno 2002– 2015 comes from my experience as an independent investigative journalist. I make no apologies for standing with the homeless, who are possibly the most discriminated group of people in this city, state and country.
My bias on behalf of the homeless is obvious and has often put me in conflict with government officials, the police and many of the social service agencies that maintain business as usual. Unlike the mainstream media, this reporting does not depend on developing and nurturing good relations with the power brokers in this community. Many of the articles written have angered the power elite and because of that, getting information from them has been challenging.
If you are a reporter for the mainstream media and you don’t tell the story the ruling elite in Fresno wants you to tell, they will cut off your access. If your job depends on access to high government officials and business leaders and they blacklist you, then you are out of a job. This has happened to more than one aspiring journalist in this town. If you are going to write and publish a book like this, you have to have independence. That independence gives you the freedom to tell the truth that some people don’t want you to know about.
Being an independent journalist doesn’t have a lot of perks, but you are able to tell the truth and make the powerful uncomfortable. I have also been an activist in support of homeless people’s rights. This too makes my perspective in telling the story about the homeless in Fresno different from just about anything else you are likely to read. Actually, there are no other comprehensive books about the homeless in Fresno during this time period, so this account is definitely unique.
Being a supporter of homeless people’s rights and working within numerous groups to defend those rights brings an inside view of what this grassroots struggle looks like. It is an honor and a privilege to share that perspective with you. Getting to know homeless people as coworkers, friends and allies has been one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.
Although I have never been homeless myself, I did get to know many homeless people well. There is a collective and collaborative nature that comes with living on the street. People share what they have. They know and talk to their neighbors every day. My hope is that by giving homeless people a voice in this book, readers will get to know and understand that they are someone’s mother, father, brother or sister.
Somewhere in the back of our minds we all know that if circumstances had been different, if we had a serious health problem, a job loss, mental illness or an untreated addiction, that we too could be homeless. We need to treat the homeless like we would like to be treated if we found ourselves on the street with nowhere to sleep. It is clear to me that homelessness is a manifestation of a political and economic system that is not meeting people’s needs.
Understanding that landscape of the shredded social fabric of this city will make you better prepared to envision and implement the changes needed to transform your city into the great community it can be. A city where all people are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Dispatches from the War Zone is available online from Amazon or you can send $20 (which includes shipping and handling) to: Mike Rhodes, P.O. Box 5706, Fresno CA 93755. Mike Rhodes is a journalist in Fresno, California. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.