Fresno is two cities, like most American cities. It’s a city of haves and have nots. It’s near the bottom of the list in America for income equality. Some of the haves are employers who fail to pay living wages. Some of the haves are landlords who raise rents that low-income residents cannot afford. Some of the have nots have gotten evicted and ended up on the streets of Fresno, some never to gain housing again.
The sad truth is the haves of Fresno don’t seem to care much about the have nots, especially the people living on the hard streets of Fresno. The haves consistently call 311 to report unhoused people near them or near their property.
In addition, even if a property owner allows unhoused residents to camp on their property, the City will cite and fine that person for not removing the unhoused from their property.
The Homeless Assistance Response Team (HART) shows up and forces people to move time and time again. Some street family members say they have been forced to move up to a dozen times a year.
Courtney Duke, a disabled woman who uses a wheelchair to get around, was living at an encampment near Highway 41 on Barstow Avenue that was swept on March 17. She says that she had been displaced by HART at least five or six times in the last year.
“Every time, it’s a terrible hardship,” she said. She added that she felt safer at an encampment than alone on the streets. Fortunately, Duke got housing that day but she and her partner were the only ones who got housing of the 25-plus residents at the encampment.
As people left, all properties around the encampment had security guards standing there to prevent anyone from setting up a tent anywhere. The Highway Patrol was out in force to ensure that no one set up a tent on state property. It was a sad day as people struggled to move their belongings with nowhere to go.
Alice Green, a supervisor and member of the HART outreach team, was present at the sweep. She refused to comment. She quickly walked away deep into the private property where the police would not let this reporter go.
On Feb. 27, Tommy Thompson, at an encampment at Inyo and F streets, was being removed with the others from the encampment of about 10 people just before a big rain storm. He said that he had been moved four times in the last three months.
Regarding the last time he was moved, he related that “they [HART] put me in a pickup, locked the doors, and went over and threw all my stuff away, my tent and everything.
“They didn’t arrest me, they kept me in the truck until they were done throwing all my stuff away.”
He also said that no one from Poverello House or the HART outreach team came by before the raid to offer housing or shelter on the day of the raid. Sadly, he was forced to move but wasn’t sure where he would go.
Alejandra Munoz was at the same location on Feb. 27. She said that “there’s no reason for them to do this, to make us move. They tell us to go to the Poverello area.
“It’s not safe. The youngsters around there think they own the place and they kick you out. It’s especially not safe for women around there.
“My mom and I are waiting for approval for an apartment. We’re struggling. They don’t need to do this to us.”
Her encampment neighbor, Rosetta Landrum, said that “they threw away two tents, food blankets, clothing. They don’t care. They even threw away my sister’s wheelchair.”
What is particularly galling about the HART harassment and abuse is that Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer publicly pledged on Jan. 25, 2022, to minimize the role of law enforcement when responding to resident and business owner complaints about unhoused people, claiming the City was rolling out a new approach that would be totally different from the Homeless Task Force approach created under his direction when he was police chief.
The task force was renamed the Homeless Assistance Response Team in January 2022. At that time, City officials committed to a more “compassionate” and “humanitarian” response to addressing street homelessness. The mayor also said, “Honestly, I am trying to minimize the involvement of our police officers in the area of homelessness and the area of mental health.”
City leaders said the new heart would be more compassionate and humanitarian. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
HART continues to abuse the unhoused, constantly forcing them to move, throwing their only possessions away, and continuing an insane and inhumane policy of trying to make those unfortunate enough to be on the harsh streets of Fresno disappear.
The mayor and the City Council continue the failed and cruel past practices that have been used for many years to criminalize and punish the homeless. Any person with a conscience should loudly object to the continuation of such practices.