Homeless evicted from downtown Fresno camp

Police and city officials were met with resistance Thursday morning when they tried to evict a group of homeless people in downtown Fresno.

About 30 homeless people shouted and waved an American flag when officials arrived about 8:30 a.m. at the southeast corner of Ventura and F streets, where the homeless had been camped out since October.

Authorities, including Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, intended to evict the campers and clean up the corner at the request of the property owners. They backed off when the people refused to leave but came back later and worked out a resolution.

Some of the homeless who had previously begun to apply for housing vouchers were moved to apartments or motel rooms, Fresno city spokesman Randy Reed said.

But others decided to stake out a new encampment about a block away at Mono and G streets, highlighting the city's continuing struggle to find solutions to homelessness.

"We will continue to work with them," Reed said, adding that the new camp was probably not a good option. "If it's private property, they are trespassing and there is no guarantee that they can stay there."

But Reed said getting a roof over the heads of some of the people was encouraging. "I'm especially pleased that we got a dozen of the campers into housing."

The first step of the city's new approach to solving homelessness, Reed said, is to get homeless people into housing. From there, it's easier to find jobs and deal with health or social issues.

The way the city closed this encampment stemmed from compassion for the homeless, Reed said: "We have a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. A compassionate approach is appropriate."

But it also was partly necessitated by a 2007 court order resulting from a lawsuit filed by a group of homeless people after the city and Caltrans destroyed their property -- including medications and personal documents -- in a series of raids on encampments three years ago.

Homeless people began living at the Ventura and F encampment in October, after the city closed down other homeless encampments on H Street.

The encampment is on two parcels with different owners, Reed said. The owner of one parcel -- the Essayons company of Fresno -- had earlier asked the city to move the homeless off the land.

To remove the homeless from the other parcel, the city needed to hear from that lot's owners.

Unable at first to find them, the city sought a temporary restraining order in Fresno County Superior Court instead.

The owners -- Alicia and Gertrude Paxton of San Francisco -- were finally located in time for a hearing Tuesday. At that hearing, a trustee for the Paxtons told Judge Adolfo Corona that they didn't want homeless people on the land, which they said has been in their family for generations.

When officials arrived at the Ventura property about 8:30 a.m. Thursday, the homeless people refused to leave, shouting and chanting at them.

"We do not give you permission to enter our home!" they shouted at Dyer and others.

At that point, officials decided to back away and gathered across the street. They returned about an hour later.

"We listened, we were compassionate, but we were obligated to enforce the law," Reed said.

Dyer and Rick Morse, a homeless man who lives at the encampment, reached an agreement to leave the property as other camp residents applauded.

"We want to work with [the homeless], but at the same time, we have property owners that want their property back," Dyer said.

Helped by volunteers, the homeless people cleared the encampment by 3 p.m.

Later, city sanitation crews began cleaning up trash and collecting belongings to be tagged and stored by the city for 90 days.

About a dozen of the campers relocated a block away near Mono and G streets.

Robert Muldoon, who said he is originally from the Bay Area, said he was moving to the Mono camp until he could figure out where to go in the longer term.