The October 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Federal Housing Cuts to Blame for Homelessness

Judge Halts OHA Evictions

The Crime of Pushing a Cart

Giving Love to a Homeless Dog

Clergy Denounce Police Sweeps of Homeless

St. Mary's on the Move for Justice

Oaxaca's Radical Teachers

Berkeley Is Hard on the Homeless

Giant Puppets Stand Tall for Justice

Poor Leonard: On History

October Poetry of the Streets


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Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

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The Crime of Pushing a Shopping Cart

by Mike Rhodes

Under a new Fresno law, this man can be arrested, fined and jailed for pushing his shopping cart. Chris Schneider photo

Fresno City Councilmember Larry Westerlund said that he did not think the homeless were in possession of any of their own shopping carts and that the ordinance would apply equally to both millionaires and the homeless.
*****
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread." -- French author Anatole France

Under a new ordinance passed in Fresno on September 19, homeless people can be arrested, fined $1,000, and spend up to a year in jail for the crime of being in possession of a shopping cart. The City of Fresno is adopting an ordinance that would criminalize homeless people who use shopping carts as a means of transporting their possessions.

As one person at a public hearing said, the ordinance would make it illegal for millionaires to use shopping carts too, but we all know who this law is targeting. The law will subject any person with a shopping cart that has been removed from a business, to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

This ordinance is part of an ongoing attack against this city's homeless population. Fresno's attacks have included the bulldozing of homeless encampments, destruction of homeless person's personal possessions, an ordinance against aggressive panhandling, and the building of fences to prevent the homeless from accessing vacant, state-owned land.

Several speakers at the Fresno City Council meeting on September 19 spoke out against the proposed shopping cart ordinance and linked it to the city's attack on the homeless. Harley Turner said, "The wheels begin to fall off a city's government when elected officials and city managers begin to harass and attack the poor, hungry and homeless in our city."

Barbara Hunt asked the Fresno City Council what happened with all of the money coming into the city to address the homeless issue. Ms. Hunt said, "We have to protect these homeless, we have to have a place for them to stay, we've got to give them food, we've got to get them off the streets." Hunt added that the city must address the issue of affordable housing and must provide services for the poor.

Walt Parry, director of Metro Ministry, said, "The shopping cart ordinance is part of a much larger issue." Parry explained that some homeless persons own their carts and that the law does not address the private ownership of shopping carts. The ordinance assumes that all of the shopping carts in town are owned by businesses.

Parry said, "We do not have the emergency shelters that we need in this community... and we need to work on that so long- and short-term affordable housing is available. There are also civil liberties issues as to whether a specific vehicle, a shopping cart, can be determined to be illegal; and again, some people do own their own shopping carts and there have been some churches that have provided shopping carts to the homeless." Parry said Metro Ministry would like to work with the city to look at the situation of the homeless and work out solutions.

Chris Schneider, director of Central California Legal Services, also focused on the big picture that the shopping cart ordinance is a part of. "Last year," Schneider said, "the Brookings Institute published 'Katrina's Window.' The study brought to light that Fresno has the highest rate of concentrated poverty of all major U.S. metropolitan areas. In second place was pre-Katrina New Orleans."

Schneider said that when the report was released, Fresno officials promised to address the issue, but that after a year he has seen no results. Challenged at this point in his presentation by City Council President Jerry Duncan to address the issue of the shopping cart ordinance, Schneider replied, "This is about poverty."

Schneider argued that the city should be developing a plan to address the homeless issue. He said, "The recent actions of the city through the police department, the sanitation department, and now the city council are directed at eradicating the homeless rather than eradicating the causes of homelessness."

Several City Council members were upset by the public comments and argued that they were not against the homeless. City Councilmember Tom Boyajian said, "There are several of us on this board that believe strongly that a lot of the federal money should be diverted to the poor and the homeless."

Boyajian said that Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money should be used for affordable housing and jobs for the poor. "Those monies go to the police department and code enforcement," Boyajian said, "and I'm sick and tired of having people come up here and saying that some of us don't care. I care a lot. We advocate until we are blue in the face." Boyajian challenged the homeless advocates at the meeting to show up when the budget is discussed and lobby to have CDBG funds used to help the poor and homeless.

Cynthia Sterling, who represents a district where many homeless people live, said she did not see the ordinance as being directed at the homeless. However, in response to the presentations made before the council by homeless advocates, she moved to pull the item from the consent calendar. Sterling said she was concerned about the possibility that some of the shopping carts might be the property of homeless people and that the ordinance would violate their rights.

After the hearing was continued, Sterling said she had checked with the city attorney and was convinced that the ordinance would not be used to target homeless people. Fresno Deputy Police Chief Robert Nevarez assured the council that the ordinance was intended to reduce blight and would not be directed against the homeless.

City Attorney James Sanchez agreed, saying shopping carts that were not identified as belonging to a business would not be taken from the homeless. Sterling said that "this ordinance repeats State law" and that the police would not take a cart that was not identifiable.

Following these assurances that the law would not target the homeless, City Councilmember Boyajian said, "Let's state in the ordinance that it is not targeting the homeless."

Councilmember Brian Calhoun, who helped write the ordinance, objected and said that while the point is not to target the homeless, he was against including stating that in the ordinance.

City Councilmember Larry Westerlund said that he did not think the homeless were in possession of any of their own shopping carts and that the ordinance would apply equally to both millionaires and the homeless. Westerlund said he was offended that people would say that this was a piecemeal attack on the homeless.

Earlier, several speakers had complained about Fresno's lack of a plan to address homeless issues and expressed concern that this shopping cart ordinance, when added on to a panhandling ordinance, and the fencing off of vacant land with razor wire, all amounted to an ad hoc approach to the problem. Westerlund was offended at the suggestion.

Sterling moved to approve the ordinance, without changing the wording to say it would not target the homeless, and it passed unanimously. After 30 days, the ordinance will become law.

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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