As the City of Fresno continues to break up homeless encampments, refuses to keep warming centers open and fails to provide basic sanitation, the mayor, the City Council and the city attorney are spending public resources on ways to further criminalize the homeless and criminalize advocacy.
On Feb. 17, the City Council, rejecting the public comments of a few dozen speakers, voted unanimously for an amendment to cite and/or arrest anyone in an “abatement zone” area when the City is doing encampment “sweeps” or “trash removal.” The pertinent sections of the abatement amendment are as follows:
Below are excerpts from a letter by Anthony Prince, counsel for the California Homeless Union and the Fresno County Homeless Union, on the City’s efforts to further criminalize our unhoused brothers and sisters. Unhoused residents of encampments could be cited and arrested.
The City is also doing this to keep advocates out of encampments when the police, code enforcement and other staff are abusing the camp residents. One definite form of abuse is throwing away personal property when these “abatement” sweeps occur.
Excerpts from the letter:
Instead of wasting resources, time and money on a code section that will be certainly challenged in a costly court battle, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and the City Council could use the same resources to provide basic sanitation throughout the city and, at a minimum, to keep the two warming centers open all winter.
The warming centers (at the Fresno Mission and the Ted C. Wills Community Center) closed effective Feb. 8. They were kept open two weeks longer than first announced because of the efforts of homeless advocates, whose pleas to keep the centers open are now falling on deaf ears.
The City follows the Fresno Mission policy, which is to open the centers on nights when the temperature falls to 36 degrees or lower. This policy is not based on any empirical data or science. A human can suffer hypothermia or even death when the nighttime temperature is 40 degrees or even higher.
At the time of this writing, the nighttime temperature ranges from 38 to 41 degrees and is predicted to drop as low as 32 degrees on Feb. 22. As of now, there are no plans to reopen the warming centers.
Several homeless advocates spent three weeks providing rides for unhoused individuals using the Ted C. Wills Community Center to sleep warmly and safely. The center provides socially distanced cots in the gymnasium, restrooms (outdoors) and one or two staff/security persons. The majority are elderly and disabled, and the lack of empathy for them from the City and the County of Fresno is shocking.
Where are the County outreach workers to assess and support them? Why doesn’t the City staff up and use community centers for safe sleeping as long as needed? There is Covid emergency relief funding available. There are ARPA funds available. There is still a pandemic, and one has to question the sanity of city leaders when they show complete disregard for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
The unhoused are at risk of suffering exposure and hypothermia. Many of them have no tents, sleeping bags or even blankets, and some have no warm jackets. The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold-weather conditions or cold water. But prolonged exposure to any environment colder than your body can lead to hypothermia if you aren’t dressed appropriately or can’t control your body temperature.
Older adults are more likely to have a cold injury, especially hypothermia, because their normal body temperature might decrease with age, they can’t regulate their body temperature as well, they do not produce as much heat energy and have less body fat, their blood vessels do not narrow (constrict) and conserve body heat as easily, they do not shiver as much (shivering warms the body) and their mental awareness of changes in temperatures could change.
Some have medical conditions that increase their risk for hypothermia. Such conditions include arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart failure and poor nutrition. Many other medical and health conditions could contribute to cold injury and hypothermia as well.
The issues cited in this article are examples of how the City and County of Fresno deal with our unhoused brothers and sisters. They fail to provide even the minimum necessities to the unhoused, such as warm sleeping centers and restrooms, and they continue to criminalize the unhoused and their advocates.
Bob McCloskey is a homeless advocate and a volunteer with the Fresno County Homeless Union. Contact him at email@example.com.
Step up as a community to challenge what the City of Fresno and Fresno County are doing or not doing relative to the homeless in our community. Contact the mayor, your City Council member and your supervisor. It only takes a few minutes.