“Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints.”—Rolling Stones
Unhoused residents say the Fresno Police Department’s Homeless Assistance Response Team members commit crimes everyday. There are many witnesses to these crimes. The crimes include theft of property, civil rights abuses and violations of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
A 2018 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Martin v. Boise, found that cities cannot impose criminal sanctions against the unhoused sleeping outdoors when there is no access to shelter.
A complaint filed by the author with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding Fresno Ordinance Sections 10-2101 of the Municipal Code was accepted, and the City of Fresno was required to respond to the complainant (see the sidebar).
The encampment sweep referenced in the sidebar took place behind the Travelers Inn shelter on Parkway Drive. Most of the people at the encampment were back on the streets as of the day before Thanksgiving because they were “exited” from the shelter for trivial reasons.
It seems that the shelter operator, RH Community Builders, is unfairly exiting people to make it appear that the shelter is shifting people to permanent housing. That allows the shelter to provide a room to a new unhoused person and increases payments to RH for shelter services.
Rudy Salazar, a current resident of Travelers Inn, said that “people are often kicked out for little or no reason. Things like a dirty room. Like having recyclables in the room. My friend, Kevin J., was hospitalized for several days and when he came back he was kicked out.”
Walter Parker, an elderly encampment resident, was being forced to move that day. He has stayed in several shelters in the past year and a half and was recently exited out of Travelers because he was not there for a “wellness check.” He was previously exited from the Ambassador, another RH Community Builders shelter, after a friend died on the street and he was away for a few days.
Kyle Portillo and Andrea Martinez, also residents at the Travelers Inn, said that “an elderly woman named Cassie was kicked out in 105° weather last summer. She passed away from heat exhaustion the same day. She wasn’t a criminal. She was an old lady. And she’s not the only one that died on the streets here after being kicked out of the shelter. There have been at least four or five others.”
Sadly, after being “exited” from shelters people will meet the same fate as all unhoused people: the constant harassment, forced relocation and theft of property by the Fresno Police Department.
Response to the City of Fresno Position
Bob McCloskey, an advocate for the unhoused, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) relative to Fresno Ordinance Sections 10-2101 (the “Ordinance” in the letter below) of the City of Fresno’s Municipal Code. HUD required that the City respond to McCloskey, the complainant, and the city manager, Georgeanne White, did so. McCloskey forwarded the following reply to the City. To date, the City has not responded to McCloskey and the HUD complaint remains open.
In your letter you state the Ordinance “does not criminalize the unhoused but is intended to protect the public and ensure that sensitive areas remain accessible.” This statement is patently false.
You further state that “the City was intentional in following the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision regarding Martin v. Boise ensuring that the Ordinance included the provision of notices with information on how individuals can retrieve their property and where to get it. Additionally the Ordinance does not include any imposition of fees, taxes or fines to retrieve items.” Again, this statement is false.
In your response, you also claim the Ordinance is intended to keep sensitive areas accessible to the disabled. As you know, the Ordinance goes beyond that. It bans unhoused individuals from being in alleyways or under freeway overpasses. It goes well beyond banning unhoused people from sidewalks, it also bans people from parks, libraries, being near homeless shelters and almost everywhere in the city of Fresno.
You imply the Ordinance is meant to assist the disabled when in fact the city routinely forces disabled unhoused people to move their property on a daily basis. The city does not provide access to the warming centers in the winter and cooling centers in the summer for disabled unhoused people. The city does nothing to assist the unhoused residents that are disabled. In fact, the city punishes and criminalizes them.
You claim the city is not criminalizing the unhoused with this ordinance, however, on a daily basis, the Fresno P.D. Homeless Assistance Response Team harasses and forces people to move somewhere else.
Housing is never offered. Routinely, possessions are thrown into trash trucks by city personnel. This practice is, in itself, criminalizing the unhoused. It is cruel and unusual punishment. I have witnessed and documented this many times. It violates the Martin v. Boise decision.
In addition, although you claim no fines or storage fees are imposed, there are costs. To retrieve property, the cost of transportation, travel time and the health effects caused by stress must be considered. These are real costs for unhoused people, many who are elderly and disabled.
I was at a recent encampment sweep which I documented on video. The Homeless Assistance Response Team and public works personnel there offered no storage to the 25 to 30 people that were there. No housing was offered. The unhoused people at this sweep were treated cruelly by the Fresno P.D. HART.
They were harassed and hurried. Many people’s possessions were thrown away in violation of the letter and intent of the Martin v. Boise decision. As you know, the destruction of property and the cruel and unusual punishment of the homeless is prohibited by this decision.