Dez Martinez argues with a City of Fresno staff person about the destruction of homeless people’s property, getting them a safe place to live and how outrageous it is to treat people this way. Photo by Mike Rhodes

Why I Risked Getting Arrested on April 6

The City of Fresno passed an ordinance to stop witnesses and the media from observing the demolition of homeless encampments. The ordinance that threatens to arrest witnesses went into effect on April 1, 2022, and this was the first test.

As Community Alliance editor Eduardo Stanley and I arrived, we could see that the police, bulldozers and garbage trucks had gathered at one end of the encampment. We headed in that direction. It didn’t take long before they were dispatched into the field at 1725 W. Nielsen Ave. (near Highway 180 and Hughes Avenue).

A mattress is put into the back of a garbage truck and hauled to the dump. All photos by Mike Rhodes

Eduardo and I followed them in and started taking photos. They gave the first homeless person five minutes to move out. Thirty minutes later, the city was still holding back before destroying the tent and anything else left behind. They had noticed people were watching them.

As the demolition got into gear, so did some of the homeless and their advocates. A line was formed, and you could hear the emotionally charged yelling about the right for everyone to have housing. Homeless advocates seemed to step back, and about a dozen homeless people took over. They stood in front of and sat down so the garbage trucks could not conduct their business.  

This woman laid down in front of a garbage truck to stop the demolition of tents and other structures.

The City workers seemed to withdraw and began milling about. They were likely waiting for the protesters to get tired while the City crew took a break. After all, these City workers get paid whether or not they are harassing the homeless. This had been their tactic 15 years ago when I went to just about every demolition by the City of homeless encampments.

Sometimes the City workers would pull back and just wait out the homeless. After 4–8 hours, most of the hardcore protesters would be gone. If not, the bulldozer would just come back the next day.

Eduardo and I left after a couple of hours, and I returned to the scene of the crime in the late afternoon. Almost the entire homeless encampment was leveled. There were a few tents left, but I was told by reliable sources that the City planned to come back bright and early in the morning and finish the job—bulldozing the entire encampment.

The Fresno Police Department was out in full force to ensure the demolition of the homeless encampment continued without interruption.

Mary, a resident of the encampment, told me that before the City crew left they told her they would find housing for all the residents. Mary said that a list was made of the homeless who needed housing, and promises were made by City officials to get them the housing they need.

A homeless man named Daniel had a different view of how this was all going to end. He believed the City would put them on a list already populated with thousands of people and that getting housing would take years, not days.

One thing was clear, the City of Fresno was pretty far along in its scorched earth policy. Yes, there were a few people remaining on the land, but their time was limited and the offer of housing was uncertain.

Intrepid Community Alliance reporter Bob McCloskey returned the next day and said that the City had found housing for 25 people on the list. McCloskey noted, however, that “many individuals left prior to the sweep, moved to other locations nearby and suffered immense disruption to their lives, including the loss of their property.”

It is important to cover the City of Fresno’s continued mistreatment of the homeless, to acknowledge when homeless people stand up for their rights and not be intimidated by ordinances that would limit our right to a free press. Community Alliance staff will risk arrest to bring you important news about what is happening in this community.

  • Mike Rhodes is a writer for the Community Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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