Food fight as police homeless task force succeeds

FRESNO, Calif.

The police department's homeless task force started work last July and the results are pretty drastic. The encampments are all gone and surprisingly, even some former residents said that's a good thing.

Behind the broken fence, this empty patch of dirt is actually full of significance. Six months ago, the ground was littered with tents. The homeless encampment right off Ventura served as a first impression for many visitors to Fresno.

It also served as a home base for gang members dealing drugs. That all changed after the Fresno police homeless task force conducted a sweep, and kept the camp closed.

"There's no drug activity whatsoever that I can see," said Manuel Hernandez.

Hernandez says he's slept on the streets for 15 years, mostly in the now-empty encampment. And even though police kicked him out of the place he considered his home, he's glad they did it.

"This guy over here did a good job, right?" he said, referring to Josh Knapp, an officer with the task force. "Because we were in danger too because they're violent."

The police task force has arrested about 300 people and they've removed almost 800 shopping carts. Officers still sweep the old spots every morning, but they're finding fewer tents and less resistance.

"Our mission isn't out there to kick over cans and shopping carts, that's not what we do," said Sgt. Robert Dewey, who heads the task force. "We truly wanted to come from an angle of assistance."

But one messy issue is still a thorn in the side of the officers. The Fresno Rescue Mission and the Poverello House each produce three meals a day for hundreds of homeless. But sometimes, the generosity of others creates a problem.

"When other groups come in on the weekends to feed that takes away our ability to be able to feed those folks the food that we prepared so there's a waste of food and that's not good," said Rev. Larry Arce, the CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission.

Trash bins are often filled with wasted food, and police have documented large piles of debris left behind. Both the Poverello House and the rescue mission say they'll allow other groups to come in and use their kitchen facilities to serve food.

Action News also asked where all the homeless people are going. Police say some are leaving town, some are scattered elsewhere, but none of them are forming new encampments for now.

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