Fresno Policy Kills, Say Their Names

Fresno Policy Kills, Say Their Names
This homeless man sleeps on the concrete outside the Cardwell Station Post Office (Griffith and Blackstone avenues) in Fresno.  This photo, taken on April 27, illustrates the harsh reality of being homeless in Fresno. Photo by Mike Rhodes 

Our economic system, with its excessive corporate greed and its concentration of ownership and power, destroys anything that gets in the way of profits. It destroys lives and discards human beings. The phenomenon of hedge funds and Wall Street investors buying up housing stock and then raising rents is a good example.

The poor and the unhoused have been discarded in the United States. Unhoused people have different stories about how they ended up on the streets, for example, escaping domestic violence or losing a home during a divorce or due to the death of a spouse or to a fire.

Many faced eviction during the pandemic, and many are on the street due to rent increases. Others are foster children who turned 18 without support; some struggle with addiction. Some were ostracized because they are LGBTQ+ or were forced to leave home.

Many struggle with mental and physical disabilities. More and more people are on the streets because of the high cost of housing and the housing shortage.

Recently, because of the City of Fresno’s current policy, enforced by the Homeless Assistance Response Team (HART), those who are unfortunately on the streets face even more danger and misery.

Sadly, two unhoused women were run over and killed by an alleged drunk driver on April 23 as they slept in a tent close to a busy intersection on Ashlan Avenue near Highway 41, as reported by the Fresno Bee. The Fresno County Sheriff Coroner’s Office identified the victims as 30-year-old Brianna Britton and 61-year-old Kathy Esqueda.

Tragically, a day later, on April 24, television station KSEE/KGPE reported that an unhoused man, later identified as 59-year-old Eric Bennett of Fresno, was burned to death in a tunnel near Norwich and Santa Fe avenues.

Say their names: Brianna Britton, Kathy Esqueda and Eric Bennett

Arguably, these three deaths could have been preventable if HART did not harass, intimidate and force people to move and throw away their possessions on a daily basis. The City uses HART to force unhoused people to move every day without providing shelter, as mandated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ Martin v. Boise decision. Hence, people are forced to move to dangerous locations close to busy streets and in irrigation tunnels, such as the locations where Britton, Esqueda and Bennett were.

The establishment of safe camps and safe lots would prevent the inevitable reoccurrence of further tragedies such as these. Currently, the City of Fresno opposes safe camps. Alternatively, the establishment of tiny home villages would provide some housing quickly.

The State of California provided $5 million to the City of Fresno in February 2022, and the City allocated another $5 million in March 2022 for a tiny home village to house 100 people. That project is now stalled. This is irresponsible and shows a lack of real interest in providing safe housing quickly.

Elected officials are accountable for the policies they implement and their failures to implement funded housing projects. Obviously, the Fresno City Council is responsible for any and all outcomes of its policies, including any deaths that occur as a result.

The mayor and city council of Tulare, to their credit as responsible leaders, have established a safe camp and safe lot for the unhoused residents of Tulare. Like other cities, Tulare has recognized the mandate of Martin v. Boise to provide shelter before displacing an unhoused person.

We recently e-mailed Fresno’s mayor and city council these questions: Will the City reconsider its current position on safe camps and lots? Why is the City unwilling to comply with a court mandate when other cities comply? How can the City prevent future tragedies? When will the tiny home project break ground? These and other questions remain unanswered.

In addition to accidental deaths, unhoused people die every winter and summer from exposure to the elements. Many die in pedestrian accidents, and some die from drug overdoses and the long-term effects of drug use.

An article in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Population-Level Health Effects of Involuntary Displacement of People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness Who Inject Drugs in U.S. Cities,” models 23 U.S. cities and studies the effects of involuntary displacement (e.g., “sweeps,” “cleanups”) on unhoused addicted people.

The article summarizes a study that found “500,000 in the U.S. experience homelessness nightly. More than 30% of people experiencing homelessness also have a substance-abuse disorder. Involuntary displacement is a common practice in responding to unsheltered people experiencing homelessness.

“Understanding the health and the implications of displacement is important especially as they relate to key substance-abuse disorder outcomes. Models estimated between 974 and 2,175 additional overdose deaths per 10,000 people experiencing homelessness at 10 years in scenarios in which people experiencing homelessness who inject drugs were continually involuntarily displaced compared with no displacement.

“Between 611 and 1,360 additional people who inject drugs per 10,000 people were estimated to be hospitalized and there was an estimated 3,140 to 8,812 fewer initiations of medications for opiate use disorder per 10,000 people. Continual involuntary displacement may contribute to between 15.6% and 24.4% of additional deaths of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness who inject drugs over a 10-year period.”

Take Action!


Contact Fresno’s mayor and the City Council and let them know that safe camps and lots are desperately needed.

Mayor Jerry Dyer
Call 559-621-8000
Comment at fresno.gov/mayor/

Fresno City Council Members
Call 559-621-8000

Comment at fresno.gov/citycouncil/ 
District 1: Annalisa Perea
District 2: Mike Karbassi
District 3: Miguel Arias
District 4: Tyler Maxwell
District 5: Luis Chavez
District 6: Garry Bredefeld
District 7: Nelson Esparza

Also, you can provide food and cold water to our unhoused residents; visit the Project H2O Facebook page for more information. As always, this summer will be scorching hot on the streets of Fresno and cold water is always much appreciated.

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Kathleen Shannon
Kathleen Shannon
11 months ago

It depends upon the objectives or goals what options to implement for outcomes.

B.P.
B.P.
11 months ago

I keep seeing, in this article and others, reference to the Martin v. City of Boise case. You want to make it sound as though the City is violating the law by forcing people to move without providing shelter. But that simply is not correct.

I do not know whether your ignorance is honest or calculated, but the Martin case only applies to public property (that is, property owned by a government), and it only clearly applies to criminal prosecution under an anti-camping ordinance that prohibits people from staying overnight on public property. It simply does not apply to police pushing people to move from places that are not on public property, without citation or prosecution.

And, if you spent any time thinking about this, or being honest about it, you would see that if there really were a case to be brought here, under Martin, against the City of Fresno, surely some industrious plaintiffs’ lawyer would have figured out how to do it. That they haven’t means your repeated invocations of that case ring hollow and only damage your credibility, and that of your editor.

Undoubtedly there is a strong moral case to be made for the severe structural dysfunction of our society and our economy that unhoused people are pressed repeatedly into the margins. But your repeated efforts to make the City out to be a bunch of scofflaws is just nonsense. The real problem here is that our system of laws does in fact allow people to slip through the cracks and does in fact allow those with the power and the control of the police to keep those others marginalized.

The problem here is not that HART are a bunch of lawless jackboots because they, as you have repeatedly implied over the past five years since Martin came down, are operating in blatant disregard of the law. The problem is that the law is designed to serve power and property over people. Where is your trenchant analysis on that front?

As long as you continue to peddle ignorance on this subject, your credibility is infirm and you are actually harming the cause that you purport to uphold.

Bob McCloskey
Bob McCloskey
11 months ago
Reply to  B.P.

It applies to public property as you stated and HART consistently moves people off public property. There is a class action lawsuit against the city in progress that the city is trying to get dismissed. It is Lewis Brown et al vs the city of Fresno. Your ad hominid attacks are rude and uncalled for. Let me ask you this, what are you doing to help? You seem intelligent, so what are your ideas?

B.P.
B.P.
11 months ago
Reply to  Bob McCloskey

Your piece says: “ The City uses HART to force unhoused people to move every day without providing shelter, as mandated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ Martin v. Boise decision.”

You didn’t say anything about public property. Nowhere in the piece do you mention any public property. If you don’t specify what you’re talking about, then it is not the reader’s job to read into your piece the facts necessary to make it true.

As well, you aren’t paying attention to the fact that the Boise case arose from criminal prosecution, and was thus rooted in the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Where are the criminal prosecutions here?

If you don’t want to understand how the law works, then you should not keep mentioning the Boise case.

I don’t think you understand what “ad hominem” means. It means attacking your personal character in lieu of attacking the substance of your argument. But what I’m pointing out is that the substance of your piece is misleading at best and outright wrong at worst. As to you yourself, I have no doubt that your intentions and goals are the best, highest, and noblest. But that doesn’t immunize you against challenges to your credibility based on the information apparent on the face of your piece.

If you want my ideas, I would say turn toward the root causes instead of fighting over which size Band-Aid to use: fight for a local minimum wage; fight to unseat everyone who holds elected office simply on the ground that they are a business owner and therefore must be qualified to lead a community; push leaders to build policies around the needs of people, rather than the needs of property and the desires of property owners; expose and explain how the law is fundamentally a tool of power and property; tell the full life stories of real people who are unhoused, to fully humanize them, instead of just saying their names, and then track down the people and systems who contributed to their being unhoused, and expose them, too.

Just going around with a fundamental misapprehension of how things work and then displaying outrage when they work precisely the way they were designed to work does not help.

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