An intense odor of garbage and urine rises from the now empty Black Rascal Creek homeless camp in the Thursday morning heat.
Down the road, three men in white jumpsuits and facemasks sift through black tarps, plastic cups, a red and white ice chest, clothes and shampoo bottles. An open purse sits nearby, overflowing with newspapers. The workers put the trash on white plastic sheets and throw it all into a truck parked on the road.
The cleanup of the Black Rascal Creek camp has begun.
For years, the Black Rascal Creek and Bear Creek camps stirred controversy in city politics. Both were considered eyesores by some city officials and other Mercedians. After years of planning, the City Council came up with a homeless plan, one that received its share of criticism from opponents wondering where the homeless would really go.
Wednesday marked the first day the city fully enforced its controversial no-camping ordinance. Police and various city departments gave any remaining homeless residents time to take their possessions and leave the two campsites.
A few of the homeless leaving the camp put up a fight. Two people were arrested Wednesday on trespassing charges at the two campsites, according to Mike Conway, city spokesman.
So far, the total cost to the city is $84,000, according to Conway. This includes $28,000 for the estimated police cost of Wednesday's operation, $31,000 in cleanup at both campsites, and $25,000 because the city had to conduct a survey on who really owned the various properties the camps sat on, he said. The total cost is expected to increase because not all the individual departments have come up with estimates, Conway added.
Black Rascal Creek will take at least the next three days to clean up, according to Jeff Davis, an estimater with PARC Environmental, the Fresno-based company that provides hazardous materials services. The city contracted the company to clean the two homeless camps. A crew of five was working at the Black Rascal Creek camp Thursday morning.
The Bear Creek camp will also take another three days, Conway estimated.
So far, the inventory has included rotting food, abandoned clothing and areas used as toilets. "If they left it here and it was clean, we were bagging and tagging it," Conway said.
Regular trash wasn't the only type found at the site.
"We found a couple of hypodermic needles, some car batteries associated with powering small items," Davis said, adding those count as regulated materials or materials that can't be disposed of as regular trash. "The regular trash is going out to the 59 landfill."
He added that any fecal matter has to be sanitized by a combination of a bleach and water-based spray, which then also goes to the Highway 59 landfill.
The men tore down the top of the tents -- shredding the material into pieces as they walked around more discarded garbage such as a comforter, empty Cliff Bar boxes, pillows, cushions, a Pringles can and an empty soda can.
The city stored 28 containers of possessions left behind by individuals at the sites, according to its news release.
Toward the back entrance of the camp, empty tents shared space with overflowing tents filled with discarded belongings.
A makeshift table had been left outside a tent with three plates half-filled with dried, curling, round slices of salami. A red dog dish sat next to the dishes.
It was somebody's last supper at the homeless camp.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.