By Mike Rhodes
A proposal to warehouse as many of the homeless as possible on G Street south of Ventura Street was not warmly received by homeless advocates, several Fresno City Council members and residents living in the area. City Council President Miguel Arias said that mayoral candidate Jerry Dyer’s plan to create a mega tent city in southwest Fresno would make the homeless crisis worse, not better.
Mayoral candidate Andrew Janz told the Community Alliance that “this is yet another example of Jerry’s lack of political experience. Being mayor of this city is not like running the police department where everyone follows orders. Creating consensus through coalition building is the only way we’re going to get things done.
“This is why Governor [Gavin] Newsom, Fresno community leaders and I are backing the DRIVE [Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy] initiative as our solution to addressing poverty and homelessness. Jerry’s mega tent city reminds many voters of Trump’s immigration detention centers and does nothing to address how and why people become homeless in the first place.”
At a press conference held on G Street on Feb. 5, community members and business owners, along with Fresno City Council Members Arias, Esmeralda Soria and Nelson Esparza, said that concentrating the homeless in one place was not a good idea. Arias challenged Dyer to locate the proposed mega tent city at one of the mega churches in north Fresno and to stop concentrating the homeless population in what is already a highly affected and impoverished neighborhood.
Arias also said that “research has proven that Mr. Dyer’s proposal to address the homeless crisis is ineffective, financially irresponsible and, in my opinion, simply inhumane.” He cited a similar experiment that was done in San Diego that cost $12 million a year and found housing for only 20% of the homeless who entered the program.
“Dyer’s failed solution would be in conflict with our joint city and county strategy that has successfully resulted in nearly 70% of the folks housed in our triage facilities obtaining permanent safe access into sustainable housing,” Arias said.
In a 30-second ad on TV about his homeless tent city plan, Dyer said that “they work for our soldiers; they will certainly work for our homeless.”
It was pointed out at the press conference that Dyer does not fully appreciate the differences between soldiers and the homeless. Military service personnel are trained professionals, and if you drive out to Naval Air Station Lemoore, you will not see them living in tents. For the most part, they do not suffer from the same rates of mental illness, addiction problems and extreme poverty as Fresno’s homeless population. Arias said it was an unfair comparison.
Another of Dyer’s proposals to address homelessness has been the Fresno Police Department’s (FPD’s) Homeless Task Force. Since its inception, this group of about six officers has relentlessly confronted the homeless, telling them to move on, calling the city sanitation department to remove (most of the time destroying) homeless people’s property and issuing citations that make the homeless more vulnerable.
The Task Force knows that a homeless person is unable to pay a fine for walking across the street. They don’t show up in court, a warrant is issued and the next time they are stopped they can be searched and arrested for having an outstanding warrant.
Dyer supported a proposal that City Council Member Garry Bredefeld promoted last July that would have increased the FPD Homeless Task Force to 20 officers. That proposal failed. Arias said that Bredefeld is bringing back that proposal for reconsideration.
As Soria said at the press conference, “We need to stop criminalizing the homeless, which is what the city has done for far too long.”
The plan to create a mega tent city and expand the Homeless Task Force is more than a coincidence. To understand how, you need to know why the police stopped arresting homeless people under the No Camping ordinance. In what is known as the Boise decision, the police could no longer enforce their draconian plan to arrest homeless people if they slept in the City of Fresno.
The Boise decision is a court order that stops the police from arresting a homeless person who is sleeping if there is no room in homeless shelters, and in Fresno there are never enough beds. In other words, you can’t criminalize someone for being too poor to afford to rent a house or stay at a hotel.
With a mega tent city and a dramatically larger FPD Homeless Task Force, Dyer hopes to have the legal authority and enough officers to make homeless people’s lives a living hell.
Mike Rhodes is on the editorial board of the Community Alliance newspaper, a member of the Central Valley Progressive PAC and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org