Fresno neighbors fed up with homeless camp at high-speed rail site

Debris, defecation and needles left by homeless campers are creating an eyesore and public health risk, say neighbors and businesses near the high-speed rail property on Golden State Boulevard.

Amber Hillman, who lives across the street and railroad tracks from the vacant lot turned campsite, said she’s contacted High Speed Rail Authority about the nuisance, but nothing has been done.

“This is our town,” she said. “I live here, and to drive by this everyday, I kind of feel like we’re in the middle of nowhere camping or something when really it’s simply a vacant field.”

Over the last couple months, dozens of homeless people have moved onto the property. Police presence isn’t unusual. There’s been reports of shootings and stabbings.

“It’s scary,” Hillman said. “I feel like our safety is endangered. (There’s) a lot of loose dogs, people doing things we’re just not sure about. The needles, the health and safety of it. It’s tragic.”

Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of Fresno County Farm Bureau, said he’s a big fan of his office’s central location, but the encampments on the nearby high-speed rail property have become worse.

“The bigger, broader issue has obviously been in this area for some time,” he said. “On this particular parcel, it’s grown substantially in the last three to four months. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of individuals residing there and a significant increase with the trash that’s been associated with that.”

A spokeswoman with High Speed Rail Authority said in a statement the the authority is committed to finding a solution.

“The authority continues to work closely with the California Highway Patrol to address homeless encampments that have been set up on high-speed rail property in Fresno,” said said Toni Tinoco, a spokeswoman for the rail authority.

“We are committed to working toward both short-term and long-term solutions with our contractor to address trespassing on state property.”

Robert “MacGyver” Hindman said he moved to the spot about two months ago. The campers have been shuffled from place to place by different law enforcement agencies, he said.

“Yeah, there’s people that offer help, but most of the time they don’t have the funding to do anything about it,” he said. “The county comes out, and they’ll try to confiscate everybody’s property.”

Hillman said someone from the rail authority told her they couldn’t remove the homeless people’s belongings and there was no money to hire security.

“They’ve got to find a creative way to get rid of it,” she said.

Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.