A new coalition of homeless advocates plans to take legal action against the city of Fresno and a new ordinance members say places unnecessary restrictions on advocates working to help homeless people living in encampments.
The California Divide
The new ordinance, which was approved Jan. 27 and drafted by Fresno City Council members Luis Chavez and Miguel Arias, states that anyone who enters a restricted reduction zone without express permission from the city could be charged with misdemeanor or fined up to $250.
“We have a lot of issues with the amended order and we intend to take legal action,” said Anthony Prince, general counsel and senior organizer for the California Homeless Union, a community-funded organization that serves the homeless community.
The newly formed Fresno Homeless Union chapter is led by longtime homeless advocate Dez Martinez. The group says the new order limits the public’s ability to attend a public process, restricts advocates helping homeless people and “stand-in” for civilian employees.
Prince said the reduction order was part of a “statewide escalation” of a war on the poor and homeless.
“It’s happening all over the state of California,” Prince said. “They decided to make the homeless the scapegoat for all societal problems.
Currently, the organization is preparing its legal case and collecting testimonies from complainants.
The group plans to seek a temporary restraining order or injunction to freeze the order before it takes effect at the end of February.
Does the new rule “replace civilian employees?” »
At the January 27 city council meeting, a number of homeless advocates spoke out against the ordinance – along with the new Homeless Assistance Response Team – saying the approach is a step towards the criminalization of homelessness.
“The city just doesn’t want witnesses, media, or supporters when they abuse homeless people and violate their rights.” —Dez Martinez, Fresno homeless advocate
“It (the curtailment order) really should be called defense prevention because that’s basically what you’re going to do,” Tower resident Lisa Flores said.
The Fresno County Homeless Union released a letter dated Jan. 26 calling on the city council to reject the ordinance, arguing that it violates various state and federal laws.
The letter, which was read at the council meeting, said “the amendment essentially delegates civilian employees and private entities to perform what would be essentially law enforcement functions.”
The letter also states that limiting access to the reduction zone increases the risk of “arbitrary deprivation of the constitutionally protected rights of potential witnesses, documentarians and legal representatives.”
“The city just doesn’t want witnesses, media, or supporters when they abuse homeless people and violate their rights,” homelessness advocate Dez Martinez said during public comments from the council meeting. council of January 27.
City officials defend new ordinance
City leaders pushed back, saying the curtailment ordinance is just a way to document the city’s administrative procedures for curtailment cleanups.
It’s always been customary to “seal” a reduction zone, Arias said in an interview with The Bee on Wednesday. “It just had never been written down in a prescription.”
The Fresno Homeless Union also said the new rule was unclear as to who is eligible to be present during the reduction.
“It’s vague, too broad, and therefore it’s constitutionally problematic from those perspectives,” Prince said.
Advocates say their presence is essential to help homeless people during a cleanup, especially for the elderly or those with physical disabilities who may need extra time and help moving their belongings. Additionally, advocates say they have better relationships and trust with homeless people than the city’s official HART outreach team.
“We as advocates defuse situations,” Cindy Pambino of Christ Helping Hands said at the January 27 city council meeting. “It’s really unfair that we are being targeted.”
“Please don’t further criminalize rights defenders and homeless people,” said Robert McCloskey. “I will fight this thing… I personally promise you that I will not leave (a clearance zone), I will make a stink. And let’s go to court for this.
Arias said he takes those concerns seriously in an interview with The Fresno Bee on Friday.
“That’s why I personally went to observe the (HART team) decampment that took place on H Street and San Benito Street (earlier this week),” Arias said.
“I clearly observed that advocates were allowed to fully interact with the homeless residents who were being rehoused and with the support staff assisting them. So I did not observe … any of their concerns come to fruition,” a- he declared.
Is the city “intimidating” private owners?
Prince said he believes the city’s recently approved landfill ordinance — which cuts the time for landowners to clean up from 30 days to 10 days before code enforcement cleans it up and sends Landlord Invoice – is actually an invoice for the campsites.
“On the one hand, I think they’re trying to say that homeless people themselves are engaging in illegal dumping,” Prince said.
On the other hand, Prince said the ordinance “is intended to intimidate” landlords who allow people to set up tents on their property, which Prince added further limits the ability to help homeless people.
Arias: the ordinance is the answer to residents’ complaints
City leaders disagree.
“This abatement (unlawful discharge) order allowing property owners to clean up the property, or the city will do so at their expense, is a direct response to residents who submit hundreds of complaints each month to our offices.” —Miguel Arias, Fresno City Councilman
“This abatement (unlawful dumping) order for property owners to clean up the property, or the city will do so at their expense, is a direct response to residents who submit hundreds of complaints each month to our offices,” Arias said.
Arias acknowledged that some trash comes from homeless people as well as homeless service providers who deliver food to the streets, but also said the majority of people dumped are sheltered people and small businesses, and not homeless. For example, Arias said, the city has witnessed illegal dumping by building contractors who do renovations but are unwilling to pay dump fees at the landfill.
“When these illegal dumps start, it makes people come and continue this activity,” he said.
Arias said the new reduction orders serve two different purposes when it comes to clearing settlements.
One is to clean the trash cans when no one is around.
Residents of Fresno have been “clearly clear” that they want their neighborhood cleaned of “heaps of trash and human feces,” which some landlords have allowed on their property, Arias said.
Preparing to move into a shelter
The second objective is to clear an old encampment after people gather their things and prepare to move into an available shelter.
“If there’s ever a tent that’s still not full, then we have people who will physically go and check that there’s nobody in the tent,” Arias said.
The cleanup phase of the abatement that limits lawyers’ access is after the individual and their belongings have moved, Arias said, when a hazardous materials cleanup will enter and clean the abatement area with heavy equipment. such as tractors and forklifts.
“We don’t want to hurt anyone,” Arias said.
Last year, a Modesto woman was killed by a Caltrans worker while clearing an encampment.
About the Author
Melissa Montalvo is a reporter for The Fresno Bee and a member of the Report for America corps. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.
California Divide stories are distributed by CalMatters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California politics and politics.