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Homeless start packing up, move out of encampments today

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK
Monica Villa gets help from UC Mered student Amy Martinez as she moves her 'guest condo' during the last day the homeless can stay at the homeless encampment at Black Rascal Creek on Tues. Oct. 12, 2010 in Merced, Calif. Monica and her boyfriend John Michael Verrocchi, also known as 'Pirate', are camping down the road outside the camp during their last night there.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK Monica Villa gets help from UC Mered student Amy Martinez as she moves her 'guest condo' during the last day the homeless can stay at the homeless encampment at Black Rascal Creek on Tues. Oct. 12, 2010 in Merced, Calif. Monica and her boyfriend John Michael Verrocchi, also known as 'Pirate', are camping down the road outside the camp during their last night there. Merced Sun-Star

After more than two years of countless meetings, protests and flared tempers over the issue of the homeless, today marks the day the city will enforce the no-camping ordinance throughout Merced.

Police and other social services will show up at the Black Rascal Creek and Bear Creek camps to enforce the ordinance Wednesday morning.

"We are going to give the people who have been out there in the different encampments an opportunity to remove their possessions at 7 a.m.," Mike Conway, city spokesman, said. "They will be getting the final notification and (we will) give them two hours of notice and ask if they need any assistance or help to move things."

Homeless were encouraged to remove their belongings before the Wednesday deadline. About 70 members from code enforcement, police, public works, development services, fire and other city departments were on hand to help in enforcement and logging possessions. The police estimate their cost of operation will be $28,000 today, he said.

"We are giving them notice and giving them some time to wake up, stretch their legs, grab their stuff and start moving it," he said, adding if the homeless need assistance, the city will accommodate their needs.

Police, city code enforcement and local service providers worked together to go out to the camps to make sure the homeless people have access to a place to stay, ID cards and other details, Lt. Andre Matthews of the Merced Police Department told the Sun-Star earlier.

Beginning in early August, the city began posting and distributing material and giving everybody notice, allowing the homeless to contact relatives and find alternative housing. Last month, the city began posting notices warning of the camp closures.

In response, around 30 homeless advocates, UC Merced students and the homeless staged an early morning protest Wednesday at the Black Rascal Creek camp.

Homeless advocate Renee Davenport said Sierra Presbyterian Church on M Street will be open all day today to take in homeless. And the church will house people at the church who have nowhere to go, she said. "We're going to feed them," she said, adding they were getting food supplies in line.

The homeless encampment at Black Rascal looked like a ghost town Tuesday afternoon. A handful of homeless sat around their tents while others were moving their belongings elsewhere. Most homeless people have already left, according to Davenport. "Some people you just can't help, people who have drug issues," she conceded. She said the city needs to help the people who have no place to go.

"We should all be working towards a solution, not fighting each other or having your own agenda. There should be one agenda," she said.

Even most of the dogs at the camp have been given to friends who can look after them, according to Monica Villa, who lives at the camp. Only one dog, affectionately called Nala Bear, was left wandering the camp Tuesday.

Flaco, 35, who didn't want to give his real name because he has a criminal record and hopes to get a job, was milling around the camp collecting his personal items. He said he had already been in Modesto for two weeks, and that's where he plans to live. He had been at the camp for the past 14 months. Before that he was in jail.

"When I got word this was going to happen, I consolidated," he said with a laugh. "I short-saled the first tent I bought." Flaco, who got off parole in January, said he had earned some money by detailing automobiles and cleaning a friend's business in Merced.

Brian Perez, 37, will stay with his cousin for a few days. He has been at the camp since April and hopes to eventually become a nurse by enrolling in a nursing program in Merced.

Arthur Anguiano, 25, said he would be going to the church, adding "I will probably hop around, go here and there." He fiddled with a tag that said, "Where am I supposed to live?" He had been living at the camp for the past eight to nine months.

On Thursday, the city will start the actual cleanup of the sites. The estimated cleanup price for the Santa Fe camp is $31,000, Conway said. He said there is no estimate yet for the cleanup of the Bear Creek camp.

The D Street shelter will be open early today to accommodate people who need housing, according to the city press release. A call to the D Street shelter was not returned Tuesday afternoon.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsun-star.com.

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