City of Fresno workers dismantled a third homeless encampment in as many weeks on Monday.
Give us another month, city officials said, and a fourth downtown camp will disappear.
Community sanitation employees gathered in the morning on H Street south of Ventura Avenue to clear illegal makeshift structures from the roadside. Perhaps has many as 50 people were displaced.
Among them was the pastor of a homeless ministry who has been negotiating with city officials to get off the streets for the past four years.
The city on Aug. 26 swept away the camp on Santa Clara Street near the Poverello House, then did the same to the camp near E Street in old Germantown on Sept. 3.
City officials say about 250 people have been displaced in the three sweeps. Personal items have been identified, packed and stored, to be released when claimed by owner. A total of 225 tons of debris were carted away in the first two sweeps, with an estimate on Monday's haul still to come.
"Everything is going as planned," City Manager Bruce Rudd said Monday afternoon. "In fact, it's going better than planned."
Rudd had earmarked the entire week for structure removal, but it now appears the hovels will be gone in a day. Rudd wants crews to spend the rest of the week removing litter.
Chris Schneider, the Central California Legal Services executive director who has long championed the rights of the destitute, said he didn't make it to Monday's sweep. But, he added, he's got a good sense of how things unfolded.
"The city is being very careful in how they approach things to avoid lawsuits," Schneider said. "But they're not doing anything to try to resolve the problem."
Schneider referred to sweeps in past years during which some homeless alleged their valued possessions were destroyed. One lawsuit was settled for $2.35 million.
City officials this time said they're making ample use of video cameras to record their side of the story.
Each of the three sweeps has had its unique tale. There was the irony of the sprawling camp near the Poverello House, residing in the shadow of an $11 million apartment complex for the homeless. The old Germantown camp, among the city's biggest only a year ago, had dwindled through fire and fear to only a fraction of its former size.
Just the name of the place targeted Monday -- the H Street camp -- is enough to bring back nightmares for city officials. H Street south of Ventura was the site several years ago of the homeless camp to end all homeless camps in Fresno history. It stretched from the fence of a storage yard on the north end to the Highway 41 overpass on the south, and from the edge of H on the east to an all but worthless security fence next to the Union Pacific railroad tracks on the west.
The camp was so big that parts had distinct territorial identities. The city eventually cleaned the camps and added a fence along H. The homeless soon returned, but not in original force. Their structures on H were found from Santa Clara Street to Monterey Street and beyond.
Among those to survive was Pastor Ray Polk and his Homeless Ministry church, along with a memorial to the homeless who have died on the streets of Fresno.
Polk preaches daily at his ministry in the middle of the camp. He vowed on Monday that he would not be a part of taking it down. He said city officials told him that they would only store it for him if he took it apart nail-by-nail, something he said that he could not do because God told him to build it.
Polk said he was resigned to the city dismantling his church. He added, however, that he believed that a shrine to departed homeless would be allowed to stay.
The shrine, made largely of bricks, honors notable figures such as Sharen "Big Sue" Bobbitt, a champion for the homeless. She died Dec. 28, 2011 in her sleep on her usual spot on the sidewalk -- which she staked out nearly a year earlier -- just across the street from the Holy Cross Center for Women.
Polk also said that he believed that city officials would arrive later in the day to help him find housing.
Polk as far back as July 2009 said he was counting on City Hall to help him find an apartment. His Homeless Ministry at one time had been housed on the H Street side of the Monterey Street bridge. The structurally-unsound bridge was torn down last year.
Rudd said the city will again try to work on finding temporary housing, at the least, for Polk. Rudd said the shrine will not be touched -- for now.
City officials admit they're on the hot seat with these sweeps. No one disputes that City Hall has both authority and responsibility to enforce land-use law.
The dilemma is what to do with hundreds of homeless people in a society that values compassion, consistency and rule of law.
This challenge figures only to grow as city officials make plans for an October sweep through a big homeless camp near the City Yard on the north edge of downtown.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin's vision is clear. The camps are a public health hazard to homeless, homeowners and businesses alike, she says. Get the homeless into solid housing, she says, then we'll tackle the other issues.
Rudd said a task force of police and code enforcement officers will ensure the camps don't return.
Homeless advocates aren't as unified in outlook. Some want the city to authorize "safe and legal" camps. Some want the homeless left alone. The advocates are united only by their impatience.
Yet, one thing is obvious -- downtown south of Ventura is a different place than it was before Aug. 26. The sweeps so far have raised the hopes of neighborhood residents.
In old Germantown, a man who identified himself only as Sean said the camp's demise means higher property values along E Street for homeowners such as himself. He said he's now thinking about buying another home on E, near Los Angeles Street, as an investment.
City officials dithered way too long, Sean said, "but finally they get it."
James Diaz, owner of Diaz Automatic Transmission and Auto Repair on E near the Poverello House, said the neighborhood's camps have come and gone over the years. Diaz, 76, prays they're gone for good this time.
Said Diaz: "For now I can work without a lot of things disturbing my mind."
On the other side of the coin is Lucifer Sutton, who was sitting Monday afternoon on the side of California Avenue on the south edge of old Germantown. Sutton, 46, said he's lived at various downtown homeless camps the past two years.
Asked where he'll sleep Monday night, Sutton said he had no idea.
"Maybe I'll leave town."