The June 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

From Prison to Priesthood

Interview with Father James Tramel

Protest Demands Housing for Poor Families

Oakland Judge Blocks Evictions

Fresno Police Demolish Tent Encampment

Extremists Call for Attacks on Immigrants

Unjust Senate Bill on Immigration

World Bank and IMF Face Crisis

Corporate Media Fail to Address Global Hunger

Raise Minimum Wage for All

The Journey of Charlotte Tall Mountain

Dying for Nixon, Dying for Bush

In Santa Cruz Dreams Come True

Tourists Ignore Kenya's Poverty

June Poetry of the Streets


ARCHIVES

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005


Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Caltrans and Fresno Police Destroy Homeless Camp

Story and photo by Mike Rhodes



These small tents were the only home for a group of homeless people in Fresno, until Caltrans and the Fresno police demolished the encampment in May 2006.

On a small strip of land next to a few small trees along Highway 99 in Fresno, homeless people constructed a few tents and temporary shelters. In mid-May 2006, Caltrans and the Fresno Police Department descended on the area with bulldozers, gave residents a couple of minutes to get out, and then proceeded to destroy everything in their path.

One resident told me that when she resisted, an undercover police officer pulled a gun on her. Jane (not her real name) said the Fresno police and Caltrans workers came at dawn and, with little warning, began scooping up the tents with the bulldozer and dumping them in garbage trucks.

"What these people don't understand," she said, "is that everything we own in the world is right here. All of our clothes, papers, everything is in the tent and they just threw it away."

Another attack followed on the morning of May 25, when City workers were ordered to destroy an encampment of homeless men and women on E street in downtown Fresno. Backed up by armed guards, workers from the Department of Sanitation moved a bulldozer and garbage truck into position. As men in orange vests and face masks moved in, the homeless hurried to disassemble their tents and load their belongings onto shopping carts.

This was the fourth attack on the homeless in the past two months. Most residents on this strip of land under Caltrans management are used to the routine. On the day before the evictions, Monte and Will were largely philosophical about what was about to happen. "We will just pack up our stuff and wait for them to leave," said Monte, a military veteran.

Will, a disabled vet, was injured in the Korean war and uses a wheelchair. The shrapnel in his spine left him paralyzed. Will was on the street as the eviction began. He wondered out loud why the city has the resources to destroy their community but not to provide a portable toilet or dumpster for the trash that accumulates.

When I arrived, Will was talking to Liza Apper, who works with the St Benedict Catholic Worker. Liza and her husband Bryan were there to observe this attack on the homeless and try to provide some protection. While Bryan talked to the agencies involved about the law, Liza positioned herself in front of a tent that had been targeted for destruction.

The owners of the tent were away when the bulldozer arrived, and Liza was the only thing between the tent and certain destruction. She was told to move but held her ground. Eventually the bulldozer operator decided to go around Liza and moved further down the strip of land to scoop up blankets, food, and other items that had been left behind. About 30 minutes later, the owners of the tent returned. They hurriedly took their tent down and moved across the street.

The City of Fresno first called out the bulldozers to demolish a homeless camp two years ago, on February 4, 2004. [See "Homeless Encampment Attacked in Fresno," Street Spirit, April 2004. That report can be seen at: http://sfbay.indymedia.org/news/2004/02/1669522.php]

Jane said she has been homeless in this area for about five years. She said, "If you don't have a home and you can't live on public land, what are you supposed to do?"

When Caltrans workers moved in to destroy these poor people's homes, Jane said she was confronted by an aggressive undercover police officer who told her to get out. Jane asked the officer how she was doing and was told, "Better than you! At least I have a home." Jane said the officer was laughing at her and the plight of the homeless as the bulldozers moved in.
Jane and her friends grabbed their tent and tried to get it out of the path of the bulldozer.

About a week after the bulldozing, there were 20 to 30 tents and other structures back on E Street near Santa Clara.

Chuck (also not a real name) said he had only been at the camp for a few days. He has applied for disability; and while he waits for his claim to get processed, he has no income. He said, "People should not judge you by the circumstances you find yourself in." He said he had a job until recently, but with a permanent leg disability, he has no way of making money. He is able to walk over to the Poverello House, with the help of a cane, for three meals a day, but that is about it.

The Poverello House has a "City of Hope" which consists of a handful of tool sheds where a couple dozen people can spend the night. Down the street, the Rescue Mission has beds for a hundred or so homeless people. That leaves thousands of homeless on the streets of Fresno each night with nowhere to go.

Gloria Rodriguez, public information officer for Caltrans, told me the homeless were in violation of Caltrans policy, were illegal, and had to be removed. Jeff Cardinale, public information officer for the Fresno Police Department, said his department was just supporting Caltrans.

Mike Rhodes is editor of the Community Alliance newspaper in Fresno. He can be contacted by email at MikeRhodes@Comcast.net


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