HUFF Recovers From Latest Council Assault 11 AM Today 11-19 Sub Rosa

Huddling together against the growing cold, HUFF will attempt to light a warming fire as nights grow colder and the chance of rain increases.
Some possible topics:  Responses to the new Performance Pens and Stay Away Orders.  Another look at the Homeless (Lack of) Services Center.  One-Day Charity Meet Returns to the Veteran’s Hall on Thanksgiving.  Response to the RV Threat.   Nasty Santa Cruz Neighbors Meet Tonight.
And Whatever Else Wanders In…  Come one, come all.

HUFF Toddles On! Wednesday 11-12 11AM Sub Rosa Cafe

HUFF discusses picking up the cudgels for Small Claims Court action to end the Sleeping Ban and restore basic Human Rights for Homeless Folks; plots a return to the City Attorney’s Office to demand disability allowances for those crippled by the Move Along law; considers another go-around with City Council on 11-18 when Stay-Away orders and Performer Pens get a final vote.   Among cups of coffee and dropping temperatures outside.   If you can’t come, give us a call to help!  423-4833.

No City Council Meeting 11-11; Protests Moved Ahead to 11-18

https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/11/07/18763917.php

November 11th City Council Events Cancelled–Rescheduled to November 18th
by Robert Norse ( rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com )
Friday Nov 7th, 2014 5:21 PM

The Tuesday November 11th events mentioned at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/11/07/18763899.php [Four Homeless Civil Rights Events (rescheduled)] have been pushed to Tuesday November 18th. November 11th is Veteran’s Day and there will be no City Council meeting that day.

Sorry for the confusion. The KSCO Saturday 11-8 radio show and the Meet-the-Attorney Monday 11-10 get together are still a go.

 

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Four Homeless Civil Rights Events

 

Four Homeless Civil Rights Events (rescheduled)
by Robert Norse
Friday Nov 7th, 2014 11:00 AM

 A disabled activist will seek a long-refused written disability dispensation so that she can show her crafts on
Pacific Ave. without being driven away by Santa Cruz’s noxious ‘Move ‘Em Along” law on Friday November 7- 2 PM at the City Attorney’s Office 333 Church.

NOTE: (The trip to the City Attorney’s office has been rescheduled and moved to City Council 5 PM Tuesday 11-11)

4 PM 11-8 Saturday KSCO (AM 1080) Restoration of Human Rights for the Homeless advocates versus StabSantaCruz anti-homeless blogger Helbard Alkhassadeh. 5 PM 11-10 on the sidewalk near Calvalry Episcopal at Church and Cedar. out-of-town attorney Paul Cook will advise homeless people losing property and rights how to reclaim them or their cash equivalent in Small Claims Court. 3 PM Cafe HUFF and Joe Schultz will provide food for the 11-11 Tuesday City Council meeting fighting colored dot “performer pens” on Pacific Avenue and “Stay-Away” laws. 5 PM on the same day disabled activist Pat Colby will seek a long-refused written disability dispensation at City Council so that she can show her crafts on Pacific Ave. without being driven away by Santa Cruz’s noxious ‘Move ‘Em Along” law.

Santa Cruz is experiencing a crackdown on homeless people, travelers, street artists, and just those seeking to use public spaces without police harassment.

Paranoia around the Drug War is being used to futile a thinly-concealed “Scare ‘Em Out of Town” agenda against homeless people–long a target of city laws, police, and rangers.

Restoration of rights and restitution for damages is likely to come only when tenants, students, minorities, the elderly, working folks, and homeless join in a broad coalition to refocus on the white collar crimes of the 1% and the complicity of the 30%.

Steve Pleich, attorney Judy Bari, and MHCAN activist Sarah Leonard are working on filing a class action lawsuit that may stop the regular conflscation and/or destruction of homeless survival gear and personal items.

In a grim and little-noticed follow-up to NIMBY attacks on homeless recyclers, first one and then the only remaining recycling center in city limits has reportedly closed down without public hearing or notice. I am told the nearest one is now in Capitola.

We are seeing food programs driven or pressured indoors to avoid the community seeing visible poverty, prison-like conditions developing at the Homeless Services Center, harsh library regulations to step up the pressure on homeless people there, churches cutting back their programs, and massive over-policing downtown, in the parks, and at the Beach.

Against this ugly darkening picture, activists are working to document the financial and human cost of new Jim Crow laws against the poor, to speak out against them, and to mobilize legal resources to fight back.

4 PM SATURDAY 11-8 ON KSCO Folks can listen in to KSCO at AM 1080 or do so on line. The call-in number is 479-1080. We will be seeking support for strategies legal and streetside to restore basic civil rights to homeless people suffering from the massive increase in ticketing and harassment.

5 PM MONDAY 11-10 on the sidewalk outside THE RED CHURCH (Calvary Episcopal Cedar and Lincoln) Attorney Paul Cook has successfully beat back attempts to shut him down in Baldwin Park in southern California (http://alchemistcook.blogspot.com/, interview at http://radiolibre.org/brb/brb130919.mp3 –29 minutes into the audio file). He will advise people how to file claims against the city and small claims court papers to recover stolen property and rights and expose official abuses.

3 PM TUESDAY 11-11 outside CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS Protest demanding an end to Stay-Away Orders, Performance Pens, Forbidden Zones, and other repressive restrictions on public space in Santa Cruz–particularly those impacting the poor and homeless. Cafe HUFF will serve coffee and brownies. Jumbogumbo Joe Schultz will provide savory hot vegan soup.

5 PM TUESDAY 11-11 at CITY COUNCIL (809 Center St.) Disabled activists will confront City Council and the City Attorney to demand written authorization so they can vend, perform, sit, and sparechange downtown without suffering hundreds of dollars in fines under tghe “Move every hour for 100” and begone for 24 hours” law [MC 5.43.020(2)].

Bring friends.

TO COMMENT:  https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/11/07/18763899.php

 

Drown Your Post Election Sorrows in HUFFland 11 AM 11-5 Sub Rosa 703 Pacific

With simultaneous events going on at UCSC (Volunteer Fair) and Watsonville (Project Homeless Connect) where HUFF is tabling in search of volunteers and contacts, I predict a scaled down meeting.   Still, Baldwin Park attorney Paul Cook will be rolling through town next Monday and offering to help train people in filing Small Claims Court claims.   We’ll be following up on the “Performance Pens” coming up at City Council next Tuesday, sending out symbolic support to homeless activists and foodservers being harassed in For Lauderdale, FL, and planning a HUFF-in at the City Attorney’s office to get a written “yes” or “no” to “Push Back” Pat Colby’s request for a disability dispensation to the Move Along law on the mall.  Make it if you can.  We’ll supply the coffee and the cranky.

Florida Freeze-Out for Foodservers

NOTES BY NORSE:  Ft. Lauderdale is following in the pawprints of Santa Cruz with enhanced anti-homeless laws. The impact of the federal Pottinger settlement of 15 years ago still resounds.   It required that shelter beds be made available before criminal action is taken against the homeless for “life-sustaining misdemeanors” like sleeping, sitting, crapping, and pissing.  Santa Cruz has no such protection for the poor.

There’s the infamous Sleeping Ban (MC 6.36.010a \) , prohibiting homeless survival sleeping from 11 PM to 8:30 AM on any public and much private property.  The unconstitutional 1 day Stay-Away Bans from the massive Parks ad Recreation controlled areas of town, passed unanimously by City Council in 2013 [MC 13.08.100] has impacted hundreds of homeless people and cash-poor travelers.  The “homeless as pests ” ‘Mosquito’ Noise devices are designed to drive homeless people away from areas under bridges, at the Boardwalk, and in the Harvey West.   Using “profane” language that “interferes” with the use of a City park, is also illegal, thanks to the Terrazas/Mathews City Council [MC 13.08.090]. On the morning after Halloween, police massive rousted folks sheltering under bridges and presented them with $158 camping citations–though there’was no legal shelter that night. 

And on Tuesday November 11th, City Council is scheduled to do a final reading to an explosive expansion of Stay-Away orders that have no court oversight, giving City Manager Boss Bernal and Parks and Recreation Czarina Shoemaker massive powers to ban those violating rules [MC 1 they have implemented without Council vote for a week, a month, six months, even up to a year].   Downtown, the new “performers pens” law–also up for final vote on November 11th–will “generously” expand usable public sitting, vending, sparechanging, tabling, and musician space to 3% of the public sidewalk, continuing to make its use outside those areas a $200-300 crime with a “Move Along” requirement every hour [http://scsire.cityofsantacruz.com/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=570&doctype=AGENDA , Item 19; Move-Along: MC 5.43.020(2)]. 

All regular outdoor feeding operations have been driven indoors with the exception of the militant Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs, which continues to provide vegan meals every Saturday and Sunday 4-6 PM near the main post office.  Food services at the Circle Church have been sharply curtailed; the Red Church now has imposed Public Assembly restrictions, banning homeless sitting on its lawn from 5-6 PM

Lauderdale weighs new homeless crackdown

By Larry Barszewski, Sun Sentinel  September 2 2014

FORT LAUDERDALE It’s OK to be homeless in the city, as long as you don’t panhandle drivers at busy intersections, catch some sleep on a downtown bench, go to the bathroom outdoors or store your belongings on public property.

The city has been cracking down this year on homeless-related activities that bother many of its residents, visitors and businesses. Commissioners have already passed a law allowing police to confiscate unattended belongings left on public property and they’ve toughened one that outlaws defecating in public.

On Wednesday, they will consider a downtown “camping” law prohibiting people from sleeping on public property there with their belongings. They will also debate a ban on solicitations along the city’s busiest roadways, something a number of Broward cities have already done.

Each offense would be punishable by up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine, or both.

City Manager Lee Feldman said the proposals address quality-of-life concerns that give residents “a diminished sense of safety” and “threaten the viability of businesses.”

Advocates for the homeless say it is a relentless barrage.

“It looks like the city is choking out every avenue for the homeless to survive in the city,” said Haylee Becker of the group Food Not Bombs, which has opposed the city’s efforts. “I think that they’re all terrible ordinances, but coupled together, it’s a death sentence.”

City leaders disagree, saying the proposals are one part of a comprehensive approach to the homeless. The city this year is using a $440,000 federal grant to provide apartments to those most at risk of dying on the street. So far, 16 people have been placed in the program, Feldman said.

The city has bought one-way bus tickets to reunite homeless with their families elsewhere in the country and the police department has a homeless outreach team.

City officials say they face issues other cities don’t because homeless people picked up for infractions in other cities are taken to the county jail downtown and released into the area after a court appearance, adding to the downtown homeless population.

The Broward County Homeless Initiative Partnership counted nearly 500 homeless people in the county during a Jan. 23 survey, with about half living between Oakland Park Boulevard south to State Road 84.

The city’s latest proposed laws have been tailored to withstand legal objections. All solicitations on high-traffic streets would be banned, including those by nonprofit and charitable groups.

But it may be hard for people to know exactly where they can solicit.

That’s because the ban relies on county calculations that divide major roadways into segments and rates each portion from A to F based on their traffic levels. Solicitations would be prohibited only in segments with failing D, E and F levels.

For instance, soliciting would be prohibited on most portions of Sunrise Boulevard but would be permitted on the section between Northwest Seventh Avenue east to where it connects to U.S. 1.

It would not be legal to solicit along busy Southeast Third Avenue at Las Olas Boulevard, but it would be permissible to solicit along Las Olas at the same intersection because it has better traffic flow.

The anti-camping law applies only to the downtown area, which generally extends from Sunrise Boulevard south to Southwest Seventh Street, between Southwest Seventh Avenue and Federal Highway. It doesn’t include nearby Holiday Park, which is heavily used by the homeless.

Before an arrest can be made or citation issued under the proposed camping law, officers must first determine whether the person needs medical or human services assistance, including mental health treatment. Violators can be issued a citation only if they aren’t in need of help or if they refuse needed help.

Confiscated belongings under the law can be recovered at the police department for up to 30 days, except items in an “unsanitary condition.”

Fort Lauderdale commissioners ended a marathon meeting early Wednesday by giving final approval to new restrictions on where and how charitable groups can feed the homeless in the city.

October 22, 2014  http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fort-lauderdale/fl-lauderdale-homeless-feeding-sites-20141021-story.html

The commission didn’t take up the issue until 2 a.m. and passed the new law at 3:30 a.m.
Commissioners heard from the opponents most of the night, as several dozen chanted outside the glass walls of the commission chambers — making it hard for people inside to hear the discussion on other agenda items.

Love thy Neighbor

Volunteers from Love thy Neighbor, feed homeless people Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, at Stranahan Park in Fort Lauderdale. (Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)

Homeless advocates put together a “mass solidarity food sharing” in front of City Hall prior to the meeting Tuesday evening, and several dozen held up signs facing the chambers in protest.

“Blood, blood, blood on your hands. Shame, shame, shame on [Mayor Jack] Seiler,” they called in unison as the commission discussed an unrelated issue.

“Hey, Jack, what do you say? How many homeless did you starve today?” they continued.

By 9 p.m., with the outdoor protesters still going strong, Seiler asked police officers to move the group back 20 feet to make it easier to hear inside.
The feeding restrictions are the latest in a series of measures enacted by the city. Officials describe them as “public health and safety measures,” but opponents have labeled them “homeless hate laws.”

The new rules say that feeding sites cannot be within 500 feet of each other, that only one is allowed in any given city block and that any site would have to be at least 500 feet away from residential properties.
Commissioners agreed to permit most churches to have indoor feeding programs, even those close to residential neighborhoods.

But the exception did not apply to outdoor programs. Organizations distributing food outdoors would also need the permission of the property owner and would have to provide portable toilets for use by workers and those being fed.

The rules could force organizations such as Love Thy Neighbor, which has been providing weekly meals to the homeless on the beach and at Stranahan Park downtown, to cease those operations.

Irene Smith, who is active with Love Thy Neighbor, told commissioners the weekly feedings give workers a chance to network with the homeless and maybe help them to a better situation.

“The feedings are just considered an eyesore to you guys,” Smith said. “We see these meals as a starting point.”

Earlier in the day, commissioners heard from Ron Book, a city lobbyist who is also chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, who told them they were doing the right thing.

“Feeding people on the streets is sanctioning homelessness,” Book said. “Whatever discourages feeding people on the streets is a positive thing.”

The commission voted 4-1 in favor of the new regulations. While Commissioner Dean Trantalis voted no, he said his opposition wasn’t with the feeding restrictions but with other parts of the law that would greatly concentrate social service facilities in Flagler Village and a few other downtown neighborhoods.
Commissioners said they will look at reworking those zoning portions and instructed staff to bring back proposed revisions in 90 days.
Besides enacting the feeding restrictions, the commission this year followed the lead of a number of other South Florida communities and banned the homeless and others from soliciting at the city’s busiest intersections. It has outlawed sleeping on public property downtown, toughened laws against defecating in public and made it illegal for people to store personal belongings on public property.
Commissioners say they’re also working to assist the homeless. In January, the city became part of a grant to provide permanent housing to 22 people identified as chronically homeless. It also runs an outreach program through its police department and supports the homeless assistance center run by the Broward Partnership.
The city’s new budget includes $25,000 to buy one-way bus tickets for homeless people who want to reunite with their families in other parts of the country.
Staff writer Ariel Barkhurst contributed to this report.
lbarszewski@tribpub.com or 954-356-4556

Copyright © 2014, Sun Sentinel

Some homeless worried about changes

Michael Schroeder, 61, sits on a park bench at midnight in Fort Lauderdale’s downtown Riverwalk area. (Photo by Joe Rondone)
By Joe Rondone, Forum Publishing Group contact the reporter

October 23  2014

Michael Schroeder has lived in Fort Lauderdale for 12 years, the last four of them homeless. The 61-year-old has become accustomed to tough nights sleeping, often being rustled awake and asked to move along.

“You keep moving, you know; you move from one spot to another every night, so you’re not a target,” he said.

He’s among those concerned about recent laws passed by the city and criticized by the homeless and their advocates, including a ban on panhandling at busy intersections, of sleeping on public property, and of outdoor storage of personal belongings on public property.

Asked how he’ll be able to find a safe place to sleep with the new rules, Schroeder replied: “That’s a hell of a question. You just keep moving until you’re out of sight; you settle in somewhere. If you get people out of Fort Lauderdale, the next city down the road will pass the same rules. You get bounced around like a ping pong ball.”

Enforcement will focus on the downtown area that runs roughly from Northwest Sixth to Southwest Seventh streets and Federal Highway to Seventh Avenue. It’s an area that the city’s Downtown Development Authority has outlined a plan to “establish, maintain and preserve aesthetic values and preserve and foster the development and display of attractiveness.”

“The ordinances address the downtown development association, focusing primarily on the business in their association area,” said Officer Thomas Stenger, who works the midnight shift in District 3, which includes downtown. “When it gets to the other areas, then what? You’re never accomplishing anything; you’re just trying to find the best balance for the complaints that are being made. The DDA is very boisterous with the city right now. The city is taking those comments and suggestions and trying to find a solution.”

Jason Lee has lived on the streets since 2003. He’s particularly concerned about the anti-solicitation rules.

“If I go to the homeless task force and ask them to place me and they tell me they have no bunk beds available, they give me a one-way bus pass and place me in the [Broward Outreach Center] in Pompano,” he said. “Then when they kick me out at 6 a.m., I’m out panhandling to get back to Fort Lauderdale. Why can’t I ask for help?”

City officials have said the new rules are needed to prevent car accidents involving panhandlers and to boost downtown revitalization efforts, which are undermined by homeless people living and sleeping on public property there.

Stenger said the rules’ ultimate impact remains to be seen.

“Ultimately, none of these ordinances will solve the problem, but they will alleviate the problem in this area,” he said. “… Ultimately, [fighting] crime always ends up being pushing it from one place to another.”


Joe Rondone can be reached at jrondone@tribune.com.

Police shut down Stranahan Park homeless feeding site, cite activists for breaking new law

Citations issued in Fort Lauderdale

Homeless advocate Arnold Abbott gets a citation for violating new law banning feeding homeless in Stranahan Park. (Mike Clary)
Police swoop in to shut down Fort Lauderdale homeless feeding effort Sunday
Three people cited for violating new law by feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale

Uniformed police shut down an effort to provide lunch to scores of homeless in Stranahan Park on Sunday, enforcing a law passed recently that puts new limits on outdoor feeding sites.

At least three people were cited for violating the new ordinance, including two members of the clergy and a 90-year-old advocate who has handed out food to the homeless for more than 20 years.

Arnold Abbott, who heads the group Love Thy Neighbor, said he had served only three or four of about 300 meals he had prepared when police ordered him to stop.

Abbott, the Rev. Mark Sims, of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, and the Rev. Dwayne Black, pastor of The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale, were each cited for willfully violating a city ordinance. Police issued them notices to appear in court, where they could be asked to explain their actions.

The ordinance, approved by the city commission Oct. 22, is one of several recent efforts by officials to crack down on the city’s burgeoning downtown homeless population.

The latest law, which took effect Friday, limits where outdoor feeding sites can be located, requires the permission of property owners and says the groups have to provide portable toilets.

Abbott, who has won past legal battles with the city over feeding restrictions, has vowed to go to court again.

“We are simply trying to feed people who are hungry,” said Sims. “To criminalize that is contrary to everything that I stand for as a priest and as a person of faith.”

Mayor Jack Seiler defended the law and its intent.

“I’m not satisfied with having a cycle of homeless in city of Fort Lauderdale,” said Seiler. “Providing them with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street is not productive.”

One alternative, he said, was the homeless assistance center run by the Broward Partnership.

Black said he understood that large groups of homeless persons are considered undesirable by city officials, downtown residents and business owners. “But let’s just feed them,” said Black, “and then deal with other issues.”


mwclary@tribune.com

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fort-lauderdale/fl-homeless-feeding-citations-20141102-story.html
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Fresno Victory: Spanking City Hall For Destroying Homeless Survival Gear

NOTE BY NORSE:  This Fresno victory around the confiscation of homeless property should speak to us in Santa Cruz.

Destroying homeless encampments has been the intensified practice in Santa Cruz for the last three years under Mayors Lane, Bryant, and Robinson and the all-powerful City Manager Martin Bernal.  Among activists there has been some talk, but no action.

As is often the case in reactionary times, court action is the most visible sign of effective resistance to the endless creep of the abuses of the wealthy 1% and the 30% who trail along after them.

In Santa Cruz, though I haven’t heard the most recent report, Homeless Persons Legal Assistance Project advocate Steve Pleich, MHCAN Executive Direcctor Sarah Leonard, and out-of-town  attorney Judy Bari have been gathering info for a Sacramento-style lawsuit to both recover property destroyed by the SCPD and Parks and Recreation as well as deter such thefts in the future.  In Sacramento the Lehr decision (http://www.scribd.com/doc/65998790/Lehr-v-City-of-Sac ) upheld the trial findings (“a practice of seizing and then throwing away or destroying the property of homeless persons”)–something they hope to duplicate here in Santa Cruz.

The Santa Cruz ACLU had no problems with “the cop as court” Stay-Away orders a year ago in City Parks (See “Round Two–The New Anti-Homeless Laws Return for a Final Reading” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/06/10/18738230.php)

This time the ACLU actually came out with a statement against it [“Local ACLU Issues Stong Statement in Opposition to “Stay Away” Ordinance” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/10/24/18763274.php] HUFF activists Raven Davis and Maya Iverson spent many hours examining the “no need for court” Stay-Away orders of the last year given massively to homeless people in the parks and produced a dense but telling letter [“Stay-Away From Human Rights ! An Activist Examines the Escalating Stay-Away Orders Law” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/10/25/18763326.php.] And Pleich promised a lawsuit against the law if enacted, even if the local and regional ACLU failed to act (“Time to Step Up and Fight City Hall on “Stay Away” Ordinance” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/10/22/18763162.php.

In response the Santa Cruz City Council and its attorney-for-life John Barisone, caught with their fingers in the Constitutional cookie jar, have put off a final vote on supersizing the Stay Away orders until November 11th [“Santa Cruz City Council Delays Second Reading of Stay Away Ordinance” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/10/28/18763436.php]

However the tightening iron glove beneath the velvet “Public Safety” fist continues to tighten its grip around the throat of the poor outside.  Prison-like conditions are being implemented in the Homeless [Lack of] Services Center with a “security” gates and ID cards the “new normal”.  The rabidly reactionary Deputy police chief Steve Clark is given a long leash by police boss Kevin Vogel as he smears even the mildly liberal City Council candidate Leonie Sherman (who has declined to stand up for an end to the city’s anti-homeless Sleeping Ban).  A homeless recycler reports the imminent closure of the only remaining Recycling Center in Santa Cruz.  Homeless-ophobic locals near the Circles Church at Woodrow and California are moving to petition for restrictive Permit Parking–in a hearing coming up November 17th.  The Circles Church, in response to both right-wing bigotry  and the influx of service-seeking homeless driven out of parks and the downtown, has shut down its Sunday meal, its thrice-weekly warming center (“the Sunrise Hangout Cafe”) and other services.  The Red Church (Cavalary Episcopal) now no longer allows homeless people to sit on their lawn except during the 6-7 PM meal on Monday.

Once prejudice-pleasing election season is over on November 4th, will those who quieted their voices so as not to stir up the homeless-haters, be willing to take more militant action to defend homeless survival camps in the parks, make use of vacant buildings, and take other obvious actions that restore the public space to the community as well as those who live outside?
Keep watching.

 

Homeless Lawsuit against the City of Fresno Ends in Settlement

By Mike Rhodes

In October and November of 2011, the City of Fresno and Caltrans bulldozed homeless encampments in downtown Fresno. Thirty-six lawsuits were filed by the homeless alleging that their property had been taken and destroyed. Those lawsuits were all settled in October 2014.

In October and November of 2011, the City of Fresno and Caltrans bulldozed homeless encampments in downtown Fresno. Thirty-six lawsuits were filed by the homeless alleging that their property had been taken and destroyed. Those lawsuits were all settled in October 2014.

 

The smile on the faces of homeless people as they cashed their checks left no doubt about who was victorious in the lawsuit against the City of Fresno. The lawsuits, filed by 36 homeless people, followed the October and November 2011 bulldozing of homeless encampments in the downtown area.

Angelita Soto was one of the homeless people who filed a lawsuit and received a check in October. Soto had lived in an encampment near E and Santa Clara streets. On the morning of Nov. 7, 2011, city crews arrived at Soto’s shelter. After forcing her out, they searched inside her shelter, removed her chest of drawers, a chair, a bookshelf and other household furnishings. Those items were put on the curb next to the road. Soto watched as a bulldozer drove by, grabbed her furniture and put it into a garbage truck. Next, the bulldozer returned and destroyed her shelter.

As a result of being without shelter and sleeping on the street in November and December, Soto contracted pneumonia. During this time, several homeless women died in the area. Big Sue, a well-known homeless woman, died on the sidewalk in front of the Poverello House. Her shelter had also been destroyed by city workers, and she suffered because of her exposure to the cold.

Central California Legal Services and the Arnold & Porter LLP law firm represented the homeless in this case.

Chris Schneider, executive director of Central California Legal Services, said, “My hope is that the settlement represents the city recognizing that the Kincaid v. City of Fresno case made clear that all residents of Fresno, including the homeless, have constitutional rights, and that if those rights are violated, there will be consequences.

“The city clearly hoped to wear down the plaintiffs and their attorneys through tens of thousands of pages of discovery demands, hundreds of hours of depositions and the passage of time. The city wanted to send a message that it is futile for homeless residents to insist on their rights and to demand dignity. They were unsuccessful in that.”

Homeless people harmed by the city’s bulldozing of the encampments that I talked to said they would use the money to get an apartment, a couple of them will use the money to continue their education and at least one will buy a used car so he can get back and forth to work.

The city’s defense of its actions largely consisted of claims that everything destroyed was trash. Attorney James Betts, who represented the city in this case, attended the 2011 demolitions and inspected many of the shelters before they were destroyed. In video of these “cleanups,” city workers can often be heard saying that homeless people’s property was trash and smelled of urine or feces. City video also documented the destruction of Soto’s property.

The definition of what property is of value and what is trash was a critical factor in the recently settled lawsuit. The Kincaid decision mandated that the city save any property found during these “cleanups” and store it for 90 days. Was the city’s uncertainty about its ability to convince a jury that Soto’s furniture was trash a factor in its willingness to settle? To prevail, the city would have had to convince juries in 30+ trials that no property of any value was destroyed. That is a pretty high bar to clear.

I asked Schneider if there were any surprises in this lawsuit. He said, “I was shocked to find that a number of the city officials believe that the Poverello House, is ‘part of the problem’ of homelessness in Fresno. They basically view the Pov as a magnate for the homeless and think that if the Pov was closed the homeless would magically disappear.

“I was also surprised to find out how adamantly opposed they are to even consider any idea about addressing homelessness other than Mayor [Ashley] Swearengin’s ‘First Steps Home’ program. It seems that city and Housing Authority officials both have an inability to recognize that the housing first approach at its present pace can only help a few dozen individuals per year or they know its limitations and just don’t care about the thousands of people who will continue to be on the streets for decades.”

Paul Alexander is senior counsel with Arnold & Porter and the lead attorney representing the homeless. I asked him the same question. He said, “There were two surprises for most of us on the legal team. The first of these centered on the Renaissance at Santa Clara. This is a project developed by Penstar Corporation and its executives basically using federal money. It houses only 69 homeless residents, but the total cost of this project exceeded $14,000,000. What’s more, of this enormous amount, the Penstar Corporation took $1,000,000 off the top in a ‘consulting fee.’

“It isn’t hard to imagine how much good could really be done for this enormous expenditure of federal money, and how little was actually done. Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. The rich do get richer.

“Second, some of us were surprised that the City of Fresno’s executives testified that making some provision, however small, for the homeless is ‘not our job.’ The city leaves this to others, such as the Penstar executives, while turning its back on far less expensive and more meaningful alternatives such as the Eco Village concept.

“What this means is that, for the most part, the city provides no sanitation facilities, no garbage pickup, no fresh water, not even a porta potty, much less any shelter, for any of its homeless residents. All this does is make the problem worse. Then, the City spends large sums, including Sanitation Department overtime, police supervision, extra heavy machinery and the like, to destroy homeless encampments.

“Fresno can do better, spend less, and over time have a positive impact in reducing homelessness and its impact on the community. This should be the job of city government.”

It is probably not a coincidence that Penstar CEO Tom Richard is a big contributor to Swearengin’s campaign for state controller, giving $6,800 in 2014. Other Penstar executives made significant contributions to Swearengin’s run for mayor in 2012.

The mayor’s Housing First program, which is intended to benefit the homeless, ends up enriching wealthy developers and not surprisingly, some of that money ends up back in Swearengin’s campaign accounts. It is a small world after all.

Since the demolition of the homeless encampments in 2011, city policy has shifted. There is a dedicated Fresno Police Department task force that focuses on preventing the reemergence of groups of homeless people living together in encampments. The police issue citations to homeless people for a wide array of alleged crimes (like having property, which they claim is littering the streets), and they have removed an enormous number of shopping carts from the possession of homeless people.

When an officer in the homeless task force sees a shopping cart without the owner nearby, the city’s Sanitation Department is called, which then confiscates the cart and the property inside it , and takes it to a storage facility. A notice is put up nearby advising the owner how to reclaim the property. Homeless people now can’t go into the Poverello House to get a meal, with their shopping cart outside the gate, without it being confiscated by city employees.

The outcome of this pressure on homeless people in the downtown area is that many of them are moving to other parts of the city. There are now large numbers of homeless people throughout Fresno, but without someplace for them to live, ending homelessness will remain an elusive goal.

Housing First is only able to provide housing for a lucky few; local government has no plan for how to humanely meet the needs of the homeless living on the streets of Fresno, and more people will probably die this winter from a lack of shelter and public services.

A homeless man on Santa Clara Street, near the Poverello House, holds up a handmade sign to express his displeasure with the demolition of homeless people’s shelters.

A homeless man on Santa Clara Street, near the Poverello House, holds up a handmade sign to express his displeasure with the demolition of homeless people’s shelters.

Progressive homeless advocates say that a policy shift toward establishing safe and legal locations for the homeless to live would be a move in the right direction. If those places have drinking water, trash pickup and bathrooms, homeless people could survive and live with some decency.

Alexander, the lead attorney representing the homeless, says the legal team has “learned what we always knew—that litigation is long, difficult and expensive for all concerned. The city was well represented and fought hard. In the end, the city was wise to settle. We would all be better off if this process did not repeat itself. We don’t get paid for bringing this litigation. We do it only when we feel it is absolutely necessary. Who knows—maybe everyone involved can learn some lessons for the future. Hope springs eternal.”

Schneider said, “I would hope that city officials have this time actually learned a lesson and will pursue a proactive approach to addressing homelessness. Such an approach would cost the city a lot less both financially and morally. The city needs to realize that there are plenty of people and organizations in the community ready to work together to find collaborative solutions. We would much prefer that over further lawsuits.”

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Mike Rhodes is a frequent contributor to the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

NOTE BY NORSE:  A wealth of articles on the Fresno homeless dating back a decade can be found at http://fresnoalliance.com/wordpress/?p=1313   

 

 

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