More than a dozen people blasted the Fresno City Council on Thursday for its treatment of the homeless.
City Manager Bruce Rudd said the city is doing all it can on a complex problem that has long challenged big cities throughout the nation.
Speakers during the public communication period said the city's current sweep of downtown homeless camps is inhumane and counterproductive. They said it makes no sense to raze the makeshift structures of the vulnerable without ensuring their adequate care elsewhere.
Speakers said a little more imagination from city leaders and a lot of cooperation among community stakeholders can perform miracles.
"Let's work together," said Beverly Fitzpatrick, who added that she works to help the homeless every week.
City officials said selected camps south of downtown must go because they're public safety hazards. They say crime and intimidation rule the camps.
No one among Thursday's speakers said the current camps are a good idea. Speakers offered several solutions. Fitzpatrick, for example, suggested turning the vacant Basque Hotel in Chinatown into an overnight shelter.
Most speakers, though, touted "safe and legal" campgrounds. No one explained exactly how these would operate -- authority, amenities, rules, funding. But the speakers' conviction was unshakable.
The "Raging Grannies," a singing group whose name succinctly explains its style and composition, delivered a protest song with homegrown lyrics and a "Battle Hymn of the Republic" tune.
The song boiled down to a warning to council members: Change your homeless policy or, come Election Day, "you'll just disappear."
Council members and officials of Mayor Ashley Swearengin's administration rarely respond to audience members who march to the public microphone during this weekly portion of the meeting. Thursday was different.
Council Member Oliver Baines said he would research the operations of a safe and legal camp in Portland, Ore. Council President Blong Xiong asked Rudd to deliver an oral report on the camp sweeps at a future meeting.
Rudd was every bit as intense as the speakers in his defense of administration actions. He said the city supports secure shelter for all of the homeless, but this shelter must be a solid roof, "not a tent."
Rudd said the city this year will spend $1 million to help people get shelter. He said about 220 people have recently been moved from the streets to stable housing thanks to the efforts of organizations such as Fresno First Steps Home and the Fresno Housing Authority.
These efforts will continue, Rudd said.
Rudd concluded by emphasizing a point raised earlier by Xiong. Looking at the council chamber audience, Rudd said homeless advocates should also take their message and their passion to the Fresno County Hall of Records and a county government that provides many social services.
"I would encourage you to meet with your board of supervisors," he said.
In other action
The Fresno City Council adopted a resolution designating The Lake Moon Co. Building at 920 F St. in Chinatown to the Local Register of Historic Resources.
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.