Three encampments have been removed from streets near downtown Fresno in recent weeks, but that doesn't mean the homeless are gone.
Some are simply bunking down in the same neighborhoods but without a shelter. Others are dispersing, many traveling through a growing camp on the north side of downtown.
On Aug. 26, city officials moved in to remove semi-permanent homeless structures made of pallets, tarps and wood at Santa Clara Street near Poverello House. The following week, similar efforts eliminated the makeshift homes near E Street in old Germantown. Monday, an encampment on H Street south of Ventura was taken down.
A tour of the areas Friday found few people at the Germantown site. On H Street, homeless structures were gone, along with the street ministry of Pastor Ray Polk; only a monument to those who have died homeless on the streets of Fresno remained.
But while the pallet homes were gone from near Poverello House, groups of homeless, along with their ubiquitous shopping carts, remain. Those still there say they are adapting to a new city policy that allows them to sleep on the street as long as they don't reconstruct their homes. But they also add that police arrive daily to encourage them to move along.
City officials did not immediately return calls Friday seeking comment.
"They wake you up at 7 a.m.," said Ray Martinez, who said he is staying near Poverello House while he waits for some kind of housing opportunity from the city. Martinez said the officers are courteous about the wakeup, but it's clear the city doesn't want any permanence to return.
Of the large homeless population now dispersed, Martinez said, "I have no idea where they went to. ... A lot of them went back home."
Martinez said he signed up for a city housing voucher, but for now he is living in one of the sheds provided inside the Poverello property.
Dysten Bane, who was also near Poverello House on Friday, said, "Everybody is just everywhere." He was still on the streets after a plan to get a room in Chinatown fell through. Like many of the homeless, his problem is compounded because he has a dog, which limits his housing options.
Another homeless encampment, along a Fresno Irrigation District canal near H Street and Palm Avenue, appears to be the next area that will be cleared. The irrigation district has posted signs warning residents that a cleanup is coming Sept. 25. Like efforts by the city, the district says personal property collected by the district will be saved for those who want it.
A woman calling herself Sinamon, who lives in the camp along with three dogs, said she is not sure if the cleanup warning applies to her camp because she doesn't feel it is on district property. She is also concerned about the migration of other homeless people past her home. She says she and other residents tell those passing through that they can stay for the night but ask them to keep moving because there is not enough room for them.
"We tell them we're full," Sinamon said. "We don't want to be packed on top of each other. More and more families are coming out here."
She said police recently visited the camp and told residents their options: ask the city for housing, for mental health help or drug rehabilitation help, or go to jail.
Sinamon said she doesn't understand what she said was the city's efforts to encourage the homeless not to stay in one place.
"Do they want 5,000 people moving around every day?" she asked.
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