Homeless Human Rights Violations–in Fresno and Santa Cruz as Winter Approaches

NOTE BY NORSE:  Santa Cruz’s downtown main drag, Pacific Avenue,  is now a curious scene of regular violation of the new Downtown Ordinances that exclude 95%+ of the sidewalks in business districts from sitting or setting up a table.  The laws impact anyone with a “display device”–expansively described as “anything capable of holding tangible things” (i.e. a cup for a panhandler, a table for a political petitioner, a guitar case seeking donations for a busqueer).  Almost every singer, sitter, performer, or vendor that I’ve seen is in technical violation of these ordinances since so much obviously innocent behavior is simply rebranded as “criminal”.   This fits in nicely with the right-wing claims of a homeless “crime wave” requiring public money and police attention–soon to be ceremoniously announced by Mayor Bryant’s new Citizens Task Force on Public Safety (http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/index.aspx?page=1924 ).

                               Obviously uninterested in going after every instance of sitcrime, strumcrime, or sparechanecrime, cops and their cheery parapolice pals the “Hospitality” Hosts walking the beat beside them pick and choose who to harass and “move along” or ticket.  The casual and regular use of selective enforcement has soaked its way deeply into political acceptability as to be clearly visible almost  any time of day along Pacific Avenue.
That’s not enough for some CSO’s (Community Service Officers) who reportedly loom over homeless folks thumbing through their ticket books announcing new unwritten crimes that require the sitter to be 50′ from a crosswalk or building.  Or suddenly a Host announces the homeless sparechanger is sitting in a “performance zone” (of which there are none) and must move on.  And seeing to get a permit to play music or display artwork in more than 12 square feet is generally not an option, except in a very few locations (See “Shrinking Sidewalks and the Permit Fantasy” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/11/09/18746169.php  ).   Some homeless wiseheads are learning to justify either their peaceful panhandling or their simply sitting by making colorful signs and selling them as artwork;  this is similar to the brief rush of kazoo players a decade ago that hit the avenue when expanded forbidden-to-sit zones were created for homeless people but not those “performing”.
And mass ticketing of homeless people continues in San Lorenzo Park as recently as 11-10, according to one rudely awakened sleeper.
Property seizures are still a relatively ordinary occurrence with receipts haphazardly given, much property being taken to the city dump, and the police property room open only two days a week for two hours on those days.
Coming up next at City Council tomorrow afternoon–investigation into the feasibililty of cracking down on homeless recyclers by relocating recycling centers to more distant places or eliminating them entirely.  The City Attorney has already reluctantly told the bigotbackers on the Council that this conflicts with state law, but the “cut off all survival avenues” staff presses on.   Julie Hendee, a particularly nasty entrenched city staffer was recently heard scolding a church group for feeding people in public on the sidewalk, urging them to move indoors and out of sight.
  Food Not Bombs soupslinger Keith McHenry reports on crackdowns across the country against FNB food servers (http://anarchistcook.wordpress.com  ).
   Fresno, at least, is still the site of an ongoing lawsuit against earlier police violations (see http://www.necn.com/12/27/12/Fresno-homeless-lawsuit-survives-legal-c/landing_nation.html?&apID=d6771ce98a814833907a33ec0be52b35 and http://weap.org/humanrights/the-pursuit-of-justice/homeless-victory-in-fresno-has-implications-for-the-nation—by-mike-rhodes.htm).

Are Homeless People’s Human Rights being Violated in Fresno?
by Mike Rhodes ( editor [at] fresnoalliance.com )
Monday Nov 11th, 2013 5:15 PM

Homeless people in downtown Fresno, like the two in the photo below, are being harassed by the Fresno police. They are being told they can’t sit on public sidewalks, their property is being taken, and some say their constitutional rights are being violated.



“They told me I could not sit on the sidewalk and that I could only stay if I sat on the curb with my feet in the gutter, or if I sat entirely in the gutter,” Lori (not her real name)* told me. “A friend of mine got a citation for sitting on the sidewalk, because her sleeping bag and other stuff was beside her.”Violet (not her real name)*, a homeless woman who lives near the Poverello House, confirmed that citations are being given by the police to people who have their property with them. “If you go into the Pov (the Poverello House – a homeless social service agency in downtown Fresno) to eat and you leave your stuff on the sidewalk the police will take it,” Violet said. If homeless people have property with them they are being cited for having “debris on the road” and if they leave it for a few minutes it is hauled away.

One woman told me she had been taken to the hospital and when she returned everything she owned was gone. She does not know if the police took it, but said that even if they did she could not re-claim it, because she is too sick to walk to the storage facility and carry it back. She begged me for a couple of dollars to buy some adult diapers, to replace the ones that had been taken.

Down the street, Ben (not his real name)* said that on Saturday he had received a sleeping bag and tent from a the Sleeping Bag Project. He put up the tent on Santa Clara street Saturday night. In the morning he got up to go to the bathroom, but when he returned it was gone. He is sure the police took it.

Violet said the same thing happened to her daughter a couple of days ago. “She was gone for a few minutes and when she returned, the tent was gone,” Violet claimed. “The police come every morning at dawn and kick our tent, yell our names, and tell us to get up and move on.” Violet says that the harassment is so bad that she and her friend have to take shifts watching their property. Sometimes she will go eat at the Poverello House and sometimes her friend can go. They can only go together if they hide their property somewhere that can’t be found by the police.

For more information about attacks on the homeless in Fresno, see:

Where Hope Goes to Die
Sunday Nov 3rd, 2013

The Grain Silo/Canal Bank Homeless Encampment is Destroyed
Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013

Grain Silo Homeless Encampment Posted for Demolition
Thursday Oct 10th, 2013

City of Fresno Finds New Ways to Harass the Homeless
Wednesday Oct 9th, 2013


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

* Homeless peoples real names are not being used in this story out of concern of retaliation.