Merced Homeless Camp Options

November 20, 2008 10:01:15 PM PST
The city of Merced is working to shut down homeless camps, but not before offering the people who live there other options.Officers have been meeting with the homeless who live under this bridge and giving them pamphlets that explain where they can go for help. But those who refuse to move will soon face consequences.

Dozens of people live in homeless camps below the 16th Street Bridge and along Bear Creek. But the city of Merced passed an ordinance last month that makes the camps illegal. Officials say it's a matter of public safety.

David Gonzalves Acting Development Services Dir. said, "Those folks don't have facilities and those contaminants are being placed in waterways and that type of thing, so it is dangerous and a public risk."

Gonzalves says it's also unsafe for the homeless to camp near the busy roadways and railroad tracks. So code enforcement officers have been meeting with the homeless to let them know about the alternatives like the shelter on 15th street.

Sam Juarez said, "Me, myself, I think this is a good place. It's just not enough beds for all of us."

The Merced Rescue Mission is another option, although tough economic times have strapped the mission's resources.

Merced Rescue Mission Dir. Herb Opalek said, "We're being hit with more people. The other morning I came here before breakfast, there were 22 children waiting in line for food."

But Opalek says the people living under the bridge are not the victims of the foreclosure crisis or recent job cuts. He says most simply choose not to stay in shelters because they don't want to be controlled.

Opalek said, "They don't want to give up their drinking, they don't want to give up their drugs."

This woman tearfully told us she doesn't want to give up her cats. City officials say they don't want to take an aggressive approach like the 2006 bulldozing that led to a lawsuit in Fresno. But in January, officers will start citing or even arresting those who refuse to move.

Gonzalves said, "We aren't going to be heavy-handed, but there is a time and place we have to let them know they cannot be there on public or private property."

Some of the men who stay at the Merced Rescue Mission once lived under this bridge. Now they're joining officers in talking to the homeless about the available services.

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