Cops arrest homeless man for violating new no-camping law

The first arrest of a homeless person under Fresno’s new no-camping ordinance took place last week in front of a homeless shelter.

Jerry Mulford, 54, of Fresno, was arrested about 8 a.m. Friday in front of the Poverello House at 412 F St. He was booked into the county jail and released on a misdemeanor citation.

The case will be referred to the city attorney’s office for prosecution, city spokesman Mark Standriff said.

Councilman Steve Brandau, who pushed for the Unhealthy and Hazardous Camping Act approved by the council in August, said the police department has told him the homeless are aware of the new local law.

“It has already changed the attitude on the streets,” he said. “The folks know that can’t have their own way.”

The ordinance makes camping on public or private property without the owner’s permission illegal and punishable by a $1,000 fine or by up to six months in jail.

This is the second time police have enforced the ordinance. Activist Dallas Blanchard of Fresno was cited about 3 a.m. Sept. 30 outside Fresno City Hall for camping and refusing to leave. That occurred the night the law first took effect.

In the recent incident, police offered Mulford several chances to move or seek services from the Multiagency Access Program, a clearinghouse for housing, shelter, health and social services based at the Poverello House, police said.

“We usually give them several chances,” Lt. Joe Gomez said. “The goal is voluntary cooperation.”

The Multiagency Access Program sees about 60 homeless people a day, said Cruz Avila, CEO of the Poverello House. He said Mulford is already a client and will continue to receive services.

While the no-camping ordinance has been praised by supporters as “tough love,” some homeless advocates say it’s the wrong approach. “We think it’s cruel and inhumane,” said Mike Rhodes, homeless activist and author of Disptaches from The War Zone, a book about homelessness in Fresno.

Mayor Lee Brand said the new ordinance connects the homeless with social services.

“Citations and arrests are always the last resort,” he said in a statement. “While there has been one arrest since the new ordinance went into effect, there have been many more referrals for service. The message it sends to the public and the homeless is that the city is committed to helping people find their way off the street and onto a better life.”

The city has budgeted $400,000 for the Homeless Engagement Resource Outreach team, which provides a host of services for veterans and other chronically homeless people.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold