When Tragedy Knocks at Your Door

When Tragedy Knocks at Your Door
Lewis Brown holding the “retaliation” citation that he received requiring him to move his vehicles. Photo by Bob McCloskey
Lewis Brown holding the “retaliation” citation that he received requiring him to move his vehicles. Photo by Bob McCloskey

Lewis Brown, a 62-year-old homeless man, was assaulted by Fresno Police Department officers at a homeless encampment in West Fresno in February 2020. He has now filed a class-action lawsuit against the City. He became an unhoused person in 2012

Community Alliance: What is a day like? Rough?

Lewis Brown: Yeah, it’s a struggle. I don’t have any money. I don’t have a vehicle, so I can’t make money.

CA: How long have you been homeless?

LB: Since 2014. I had a job, a house; my kid lived with me. I lost my house in 2012. I went to prison after I bought a car for car parts and didn’t know it was stolen. I got 16 months in prison for stolen property.

CA: Do you have relatives?

LB: Yeah, my mom’s still alive. My sister works for the County. I don’t want to stay with my mom and put a burden on her. My son got killed by the cops in a high-speed chase, only 21 years old, in 2014.  He stayed in a coma for seven months with a busted spine and internal injuries, and then he passed away.  I had just gotten out (of prison).

CA: What a tragedy and the police caused that?

LB: Yeah, they clipped him at 120 miles per hour and caused the accident. He was ejected 100 feet and severely injured.

CA: I am so sorry for your loss, what a needless tragedy. It must be so difficult for you out here.

LB: Yeah, I need a house. It’s hard for me to get a job, I’m injured, I can’t see in one eye.”

CA: What do you think about the housing and support system?

LB: Well, everyone out here wants a place to stay, to shower and sleep, but the way they treat people in the shelter system is bad. They’ve got a lot of messed-up rules. The staff mistreats people. Then they only give you the room for 90 days. I don’t want it. Just because we’re homeless, we shouldn’t be treated like animals. They say their mission is to help us get back into society, but they don’t do anything to help. They’re supposed to help get food stamps and other services, but they don’t.

CA: Do people get mental health or substance abuse services?

LB: I don’t think so, from what I know.”

CA: What do you hear from people about why they are homeless?

LB: Because of a crisis, something happened in their family…it’s not because they’re drug addicts. That’s what everybody thinks. There are good people out there. Everybody’s had jobs. I know electricians, carpenters, construction workers. People have a tragedy, they lose their families. It’s rough. It’s cold out here.

CA: What should the City and County focus on?

LB: The tiny home villages, permanent housing, permanent apartments and then services if people need them. The City needs to do more street outreach. All they have is Poverello. The City has good intentions, I think, of getting rid of us!

As Brown’s lawsuit proceeds, a team of lawyers will be gathering statements and depositions from unhoused persons in Fresno who have been mistreated by the Fresno Police Department and/or have had property taken and discarded by the city, as well as city employees. As the case unfolds, the Community Alliance newspaper will keep readers updated on the latest developments.


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