City officials on Monday expect to begin a series of sweeps that could be a turning point in Fresno's long struggle with sprawling homeless encampments and the diverse people who live there.
Sanitation workers and police officers are slated soon after sunrise to gather the personal possessions and raze the illegal structures that line several streets in the Poverello House-Fresno Rescue Mission neighborhood south of downtown.
The camps are on Santa Clara Street near E Street, on F Street across from the Poverello House and on both sides of G Street south of the Rescue Mission.
City officials said the work will continue through the week, then move on Sept. 3 to a camp near E and Los Angeles streets in old Germantown and on Sept. 9 to a camp at H and San Benito streets.
The camps for the most part are on public property. Many of the men and women living there say they do so out of desperation.
City officials said the camps all too often are home to violence, crime and intimidation, making them a public safety hazard. According to city records, nearly 250 people at the Santa Clara camps were arrested for felony or misdemeanor offenses during the last three weeks of July. More than 30 arrests were gang-related.
Camp residents say they have nowhere to go. City officials say there's help, but requires the homeless to change.
This is a recipe for conflict on Monday.
City Manager Bruce Rudd this week said he doesn't anticipate resistance. However, the intentions of Mayor Ashley Swearengin's administration are firm.
"The camps won't be back," Rudd said.
Central California Legal Services Executive Director Chris Schneider, a longtime homeless advocate, said much depends on the deportment of city employees.
If property and pride are treated like refuse, Schneider said Friday, "people are going to be upset."
There will be subplots to Monday's sweep. Foremost among them is a long-term solution to the challenge of Fresno's estimated 4,000 homeless people.
Swearengin pushes a "housing first" strategy that focuses on getting people off the streets before tackling the human frailties. There have been successes but measured in hundreds, not thousands.
Many local homeless advocates want this strategy supplemented with authorized homeless camps. These would give people who prefer the streets a stable place to sleep while restoring order to public spaces, advocates say.
City officials are cool to the idea, saying such camps don't work as advertised.
Rudd said the three weeks of sweeps signal the start of a new era. Other camps will be swept away. The homeless who want help will get it. The others must go to places other than Fresno.
Fresno's quality of life will improve, Rudd said.
If the camps come back and the new era dies in its infancy, Schneider said, homeless advocates will be ready to talk again about things like authorized camps.
On Monday, though, the action will be more immediate. Rudd said workers from the community sanitation division and police officers in plain clothes will be out in force.
Clothes, books, bedding, furniture -- the stuff of daily life -- will be packed and marked with the owner's name, Rudd said. Structures will be torn down.
Video cameras will be everywhere. Each community sanitation worker and police officer will wear a device recording their every move and comment, Rudd said. A videographer will be there, as well.
Schneider said homeless advocates will match the city video for video.
Rudd said the city has already shot plenty of video at the camps. The tapes will prove that city workers went the extra mile to tell camp residents far in advance about the sweeps, he said.
Edward Jones said he knows what's coming on Monday. He sleeps on a couch that sits under the Valley sky. The Poverello House is a short walk to the east. The area's biggest camp is a short walk to the west.
Jones, 55, said he's been on the side of Santa Clara for about six months. He said he can't haul away his couch, so he'll stay put.
"I can't stop them from doing what they're going to do," Jones said. "Those people are in higher places than me."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his City Beat blog at news.fresnobeehive.com/city-beat.