Fresno: Burning Out a Homeless Encampment?

Fresno has no Heart – Will Evict the Homeless on Valentines Day
by Mike Rhodes ( editor [at] fresnoalliance.com )
Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM

The photo below shows the north end of the Monterey and E street homeless encampment.

 

 

An eviction of a significant number of homeless people at a downtown encampment will probably take place on Thursday, February 14. According to residents of the homeless encampment, located near Monterey and E street, they were told by the owner of the property they are living on that they have until Thursday to “move on.” The owner was accompanied by several officers from the Fresno Police Department and a truck & crew from the Fire Department.One homeless man told me this afternoon (Monday, February 11) that the owner of the property said he would be bulldozing the vacant lot on Thursday and everything would be destroyed. “He told me to get the fuck out of here,” he shared with me as he sorted through recycled items sitting in several shopping carts on the property. When I asked if he was sure it was the owner, he said “well, he had the police with him, so it looked pretty convincing to me.”

Unlike other evictions by the City of Fresno, there are no signs posted to notify the residents of the demolition that is to come. Julie (not her real name), said someone had posted an eviction notice about a month ago, but those were torn down within an hour or two. The owner told her that he did not have to post notices because it is his property.

There was an eviction that took place in the spring of 2012 at another homeless encampment, behind the grain silos near Palm and H street, that was similar. This was private property, the owner made numerous attempts to force the homeless to move, and eventually put a fence around the property to force the eviction. Many of the homeless people from that encampment moved about 200 feet south and occupied a different vacant lot. They have not been threatened with eviction again, as far as I know.

Most of the residents at the Monterey and E street homeless encampment who are being threatened with eviction said they were planning on moving, but I was told that not everyone would pack up and move. I was told that it is only the north end of the encampment that has been threatened with eviction. The dividing line is Monterey street. Everything north of Monterey street will likely be destroyed on Thursday. Everything south of Monterey street is said to be safe from the demolition.

Can the owner of a vacant lot take and immediately destroy homeless peoples property? Did the City of Fresno threaten the owner with legal action if he did not move against the homeless? Will FPD officers participate in the demolition or arrest anyone if they resist? Observers are needed starting early Thursday morning. If you can help, meet at the encampment starting at 7 a.m. on Thursday. Bring your video or still camera to document what takes place. If you can’t come until later, let me know so we can coordinate having someone there all day.

Demolitions of homeless encampments in October and November of 2011 resulted in over 30 lawsuits against the City of Fresno claiming that the city violated homeless peoples legal rights by taking and immediately destroying their property. Those cases are working their way through the court. Without this litigation it is likely that the city would have been more aggressive in their attacks on the homeless. A new strategy of forcing property owners to evict the homeless may be emerging as City Hall seeks to avoid additional lawsuits.

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Mike Rhodes is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. He can be reached by email at editor [at] fresnoalliance.com .

§Another view of the norht end of the encampment

by Mike Rhodes Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM

 

§This shows the entire area impacted by the evictions

by Mike Rhodes Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM

 

§Typical Shelter in the Area

by Mike Rhodes Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM

 

§This is the center of the homeless encampment looking north

by Mike Rhodes Monday Feb 11th, 2013 5:43 PM

 

 

Burning the Homeless out

by Mike Rhodes ( editor [at] fresnoalliance.com )
Sunday Feb 17th, 2013 7:10 PM

This is a follow up to an earlier Indybay article about an eviction of homeless people at the Monterey and E street encampment in Fresno.

 

 

As I drove toward the Monterey and E street homeless encampment on Valentine’s Day, I could see a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky. When I got a little closer I could hear and then see the fire trucks screaming towards the smoke. They got there about 5 minutes ahead of me, but they already had most of the fire under control by the time I arrived.I was going to the encampment to check out reports that the owner was going to bulldoze the vacant lot, inhabited by about 100 homeless people in downtown Fresno. See: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/02/11/18731822.php

After taking a few photos of the scene I headed over to the police and what looked to be the fire department supervisor. I asked the officer if there was anything suspicious about the fire. He looked puzzled. I told him that the owner of the property had told the residents that he was going to bulldoze the encampment today. More puzzlement in the eyes of the two guys I was talking to. I said, “have you looked into the possibility that the owner started the fire to force the homeless from this area?” This the police officer seemed to understand and he assured me that nothing like that had happened. “How do you know that?” I asked. “Well, these people out here would make a complaint if something like that had happened. Oh, they do all kinds of things themselves, but if something happens to them they will file a complaint.”

Seemed to me that the officer had some bias against the homeless and unlike any other house fire in this town, there would be no investigation of what happened here. After all, these were just homeless people, squatting on somebody’s land. Arson? An attempt to evict the people that lived there? Obviously, the police or the fire department were not going to be bothered to investigate what had happened.

This is one of the realities of the homeless encampments in Fresno. There are a lot of fires, some of which are caused by candles and other light or heat sources. Sometimes, as Gloria (a homeless woman who used to live in the area) told me, there are people who will burn your house down because you owe them $10.

Several people told me that the fire on Valentine’s Day was not due to the vigilantism of the property owner, but was the result of a personal dispute.

The eviction by the owner, who told everyone he was going to bulldoze their property, did not happen. This is not unusual and has become a pattern in Fresno. What usually happens is that you have a property owner who may or may not care that homeless people are living on his property. He or she is contacted by someone from the City of Fresno (usually code enforcement or the police) and they are told they have to do something about the homeless encampment on their property.

If the owner does not move to dislodge the homeless the city official will ratchet up the pressure. This could be in the form of telling the owner that if they don’t remove the homeless, the city will do it and send them a bill for the clean up. Another approach I have seen them use is to threaten the owner, saying that if they don’t remove the homeless, they will make life more difficult for them. In one case they told a home owner with obvious code violations that if they did not remove the homeless people from their property they would come and do an inspection. If the homeless people move, then there will be no pesky government officials turning over every stone at your house to make sure you are in 100% compliance of all local, state, and federal laws. You get the idea.

In this case, the owner came out to the encampment on Monterey and E streets, with the fire department and the police watching his back (from a safe distance) as he threatened them with eviction and a bulldozer on Valentine’s Day. This created enough anxiety among the homeless that at least ½ of them moved away. That was the desired result. If the city and property owner can get the homeless to leave, without bringing out the bulldozer, that is a win for them.

Most homeless people don’t want to be a part of a confrontation and they will move on when threatened with the destruction of their property. Of course, they usually just move over to the next vacant lot and the process starts all over again.

§Why was their no investigation of this house fire?

by Mike Rhodes Sunday Feb 17th, 2013 7:11 PM

 

 

 

 

All photos by Mike Rhodes

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