The September 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Police Raids on Fresno Homeless

Memorial to Mary Who Died

New Orleans After Katrina

Troubles for the Berkeley Housing Authority

Link Between Foster Care and Homelessness

An Epidemic of Rising Poverty

Angel Behind Prison Bars

Blaming Street People for Cody's Demise

MASC Storage Lockers Offer New Help

Interview with Osha Neumann, Artist/Attorney

Resisting Unjust CEO Pay Rates

Liberation from Hell of Addiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Social Change

Sept. Poetry of the Streets

Review of Jan Steckel's Poems


July 2006

June 2006

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.

Bulldozers, Barbed Wire and Repression in Fresno

by Mike Rhodes

Homeless activists bravely block the bulldozer from destroying a homeless encampment in Fresno. Mike Rhodes photo

Barbed wire fences went up on Saturday, August 26, in downtown Fresno to keep homeless people off a strip of land owned by Caltrans. City officials and police forced homeless people from multiple encampments in downtown Fresno in a raid that displaced hundreds of unsheltered people.

The homeless campers were told to move to the Poverello House, a nearby homeless center. Assistant Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd said, "We met with the Poverello House yesterday and they said they could take in anyone who needed a place to stay." Several homeless people I talked to scoffed at this assertion and said the Poverello House doesn't have the facilities to take in the hundreds of people who had just been displaced.

Dee, one of the homeless women in the area, told me that the Poverello House closes at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. "There is no way they are going to let us all in there," Dee said.

I went to the Poverello House and asked Paul, the person in charge for the day, if I could see the facilities where the hundreds of homeless people were going to sleep that night. Paul looked like a deer caught in the headlights of a car and said that he would have to call his boss and have them call me. Paul confirmed what Dee had said: They start getting people out of the Poverello House at about 12:30 p.m. and everyone is gone by 2 p.m. on Saturday. Nobody from Poverello House called me back.

Before leaving, I ran into the director of Naomi House, a place that provides women with a place to sleep, located on the grounds of the Poverello House. Naomi House has room for 25 women and they use a lottery system to determine who gets to stay the night.

When I told her about the "clean up" on E Street and that the city spokesperson was saying all of the homeless people could come to the Poverello House, she just rolled her eyes. She said, "We don't have enough room as it is. How are we going to take more people in?"

In addition to Naomi House, which is the only homeless shelter for women in Fresno, the Poverello House runs a "City of Hope." The City of Hope grew out of a tent city they established a couple years ago. The tents were replaced with tool sheds that house about 50 people.

Many homeless people complain about the City of Hope because of the many restrictive rules. Residents can't come in until the evening, are forced to leave early in the day, and the members vote you in or out. Pam, a homeless woman in the area, said it was "like the TV reality show Survivor -- which homeless person will get voted out of the shelter this week?" Another homeless person described it as a concentration camp.

The only other shelter in the area is run by the Fresno Rescue Mission. The Rescue Mission has about 150 dormitory-style beds, but they are only for men. Pam says they don't even let women use the restrooms. The Rescue Mission requires those who want to spend the night to attend prayer services first.

With about a thousand homeless people in the downtown area, and inadequate shelter space available, what is the city going to do with people who are homeless? I asked that question to Fresno Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd. Rudd said, "We are going to encourage people to avail themselves of the facilities available." I asked if they would arrest people for camping on the street. Rudd said, "I hope it doesn't come to that."

Right after that, things started getting exciting on the Caltrans strip of land on E Street. Lisa Apper, with the Saint Benedict Catholic Worker, had put herself in front of the garbage truck that was being filled with homeless people's tents, clothing, and other possessions.

Apper refused to move, saying, "We have got to take a stand for justice." Several Fresno Police Department officers arrived and an animated conversation took place. Still Apper refused to move.

About that same time, several activists from the Fresno C.A.F.E./Food Not Bombs collective started to position themselves in front of some of the homeless people's possessions, blocking the evacuation. Fresno Police Officer Rey Wallace pushed the activists toward the street. They managed to outmaneuver him and ended up standing in front of the bulldozer.

The police and city clean-up crew gave up on the strategy of trying to talk those engaged in civil disobedience out of the act and removed both the bulldozer and garbage truck. This turned out to only be a brief tactical retreat.

Walter, a homeless man in a wheelchair, refused to leave the camp on E Street because he and his dog had nowhere else to go. Mike Rhodes photo

Most of the homeless people and their allies moved down to the other end of the strip of land, where there was an African American man in a wheelchair who was refusing to leave his tent. As everyone went to the other end of the strip of land, the city brought in a crew to start building a fence around the property.

Walter, the man who was refusing to move, demanded a permanent place for himself and his dog. The police negotiated with him for several hours before finally working something out that was acceptable.

As Walter was being led away, I heard City Manager Andy Souza telling the Channel 47 (CBS) reporter that all these people could go to the Poverello House and they would be given a place to sleep for the night. After the interview, I told Souza that what he said was a nice story for the TV audience and that it would probably make people feel better knowing that the homeless had a place to stay, but that he and I both knew it was not true.

We talked about the lack of shelter beds and I asked City Manager Souza what Fresno's short and long term plans are for eliminating homelessness. Souza did not have a lot of answers to the question about the city's plan for eliminating homelessness, but we did have a conversation about what solutions might exist.

Souza seemed to think that the crisis precipitated by these events might motivate city officials to work toward developing a plan to end homelessness. We agreed that pushing people out of one area to another was not a solution. It just displaces the problem. He listened as I told him the homeless in this area need a safe place to stay, trash service, running water, and portable toilets. These services would be less expensive than the constant attacks being carried out and would actually help rather than hurt the homeless.

Police Captain Greg Garner and Bruce Rudd joined us. Souza said that living conditions like this would never be tolerated if it was up in North Fresno by River Park. Garner said that the solution was not always something the City of Fresno could come up with. He asked, "Why don't the churches and other community groups get together to help?" There was agreement that most people in North Fresno don't know that conditions like this exist in this community.

While we talked, the bulldozer and clean-up crews were busy filling the garbage truck with the possessions of the homeless. When they were done on E Street, they headed east on Santa Clara. Shortly after the area had been fenced off, a section of the fence on E Street had already been destroyed, making the area again accessible to homeless campers.

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

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

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