Man found dead outside northeast Fresno shopping center spurs homeless outcry

The Fresno BeeDecember 23, 2013 

An emergency worker and Fresno police respond to a northeast Fresno shopping center early Dec. 23, 2013, where they found the body of a person who apparently died of exposure to the cold.

JIM GUY — The Fresno Bee

The overnight death of an apparent transient whose body was found Monday morning in northeast Fresno can be the kind of side effect that results from chasing the homeless from one part of the city to another, advocates say.

City officials shut down several homeless encampments this year and now it's policy to prevent the homeless from setting up new camps. Officials said the camps, constructed of tarps and pallets and cast-off furniture, were a health and fire hazard as well as a magnet for crime. Homeless advocates, however, say pushing street people from one place to another is a futile shell game.

Police and emergency workers reported finding the body of the man in a shopping center at the northeast corner of First Street and Bullard Avenue. The man, who apparently went to sleep on the concrete next to a store, was found by a security guard who at first thought the man was just asleep. The guard then contacted police.

Fresno police said Monday afternoon that the man is believed to have been a transient and no foul play is suspected in his death. Fresno County Coroner Dr. David Hadden said his office hadn't determined the man's identity or cause of death, but police reports indicate the man appears to have died from natural causes.

Pastor Chris Breedlove of Community United Church of Christ called the death tragic.

"This is the result of the homeless having to move and (not allowing them) to stay in one place," he said.

Breedlove's church is on Fresno Street north of Barstow Avenue, and Breedlove said he has seen more homeless in the area since the city began shutting down the encampments this summer.

Breedlove added that opening warming centers for the homeless on cold nights in southwest Fresno isn't a solution that is acceptable to many on the streets.

"They are reluctant to leave their belongings outside," he said.

Beverly Fitzpatrick of The Thursday Group, people devoted to weekly supply deliveries and other help for the homeless, agreed that the requirement was a deal-killer for many homeless.

"It breaks my heart," she said of the death. She said advocates warned the Fresno City Council that there could dangerous consequences to a policy that did not allow the homeless to live in a fixed location.

"We are an embarrassment," she said of the city's policy. "I don't get our mayor. I wish she would give me an answer as to what these people are supposed to do."

City Manager Bruce Rudd said the circumstances of the man's death are unknown, so it's too early for City Hall to respond to critics.

"People are speculating that it was exposure to the cold," Rudd said.

Rudd said the city did not open its warming centers Sunday night because the temperature did not dip below the trigger point. That point, he said, is 35 degrees or colder for at least an hour or so.

Rudd said he confirmed with Fresno Rescue Mission officials that the mission was available throughout the night to anyone asking to get out of the cold.

Several people who are homeless and gather near West and Shields avenues said they have their own strategies to keep warm on cold nights.

"Fires, hella blankets," said Elaina. "What we need is somebody to make a big fire so we can all go there. If they want to charge a little fee, charge a little fee."

Said a man who called himself William: "We stay warm by using tents, candles and sleeping bags."

But both Elaina and William agreed that being forced to constantly move was especially difficult on cold nights.

Bee staff contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6339, jguy@fresnobee.com or @jimguy27 on Twitter.

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