Caltrans workers, escorted by California Highway Patrol officers, this week began evicting occupants of homeless encampments along the dozens of miles of highways through Fresno.
While such camps have been a vexing problem for the city for years, the issue along highways is a lesser-known, but equally serious problem for the state.
The camps have sprung up along access ramps of Highways 180, 41 and 99 and can sometimes be glimpsed by motorists speeding along.
We tell them, ‘Take your stuff and leave.’
Cory Burkharth, Caltrans spokesman
Composed of tents, tarps and sometimes more permanent structures, the camps are a costly issue for the state to clean up. Occupants have no restroom facilities, cut costly holes in chain-link fencing intended to keep them out and damage irrigation systems installed to water expensive landscaping. Wednesday, evictions began near Belmont and Blackstone avenues.
Crimes also take place along the often-hidden strips of state property. Copper wire, stolen from nearby street lighting or businesses, is often evident in encampments, along with hypodermic needles. Fires are frequently set, either to burn off insulation from the stolen wire or so occupants can cook or keep warm. As is the case at homeless encampments in the city, workers frequently encounter emotionally disturbed people.
The CHP is in charge of law enforcement on the property, but officers primarily patrol state roadways.
Crimes take place along the often-hidden strips of state property.
The Caltrans workers spent this week notifying occupants that they would have 72 hours to break down encampments and remove their property. That message doesn’t always go down well, and the CHP officers go along to ensure the safety of the Caltrans workers. Last summer, a Caltrans worker was punched in the face in a confrontation with a homeless man, according to Caltrans spokesman Cory Burkarth.
Burkharth said much of what is left behind by occupants after the 72-hour deadline would be considered trash and thrown away by clean-up crews. But personal items, such as photos or books, are kept for 90 days at a maintenance yard.