Dozens of people who were evicted from a shanty camp near Mendota have been forced to find new places to live after authorities said the settlement owned by Westlands Water District would need to be demolished.
After posting notices that the camp would be cleared, Fresno County sheriff’s deputies evicted about 20 remaining inhabitants of the camp on Friday. Deputies first met with representatives from Clinica Sierra Vista of Fresno, church volunteers, animal control and other groups at the Mendota Police Department to discuss logistics of the camp north of Mendota city limits.
“We’ve actually became aware of this encampment about a year ago when we received a notice of violation from the Fresno County Department of Health,” said Gayle Holman, public affairs representative for Westlands Water District.
“It was at that point that we legally had to take action. As you can see, there’s no facilities out here. It’s on private property; there’s a safety issue and a public health issue. We were ordered by Fresno County that we must vacate the area.”
Some inhabitants still in the camp were served with the notices by deputies.
Maria Louisa Daniels, who lived in the camp since February, was escorted from her tiny shelter while holding her dog.
Asked about where she would go, Daniels said, “I don’t know, maybe Poverello,” referring to a homeless shelter in Fresno.
Several of the residents, some wrapped in blankets and carrying boxes of belongings, rode bicycles or simply walked to Mendota.
Two 24-hour security guards from Falcon Private Security hired by Westlands will patrol the camp to protect belongings left behind and allow the residents to claim their property within 15 days.
“It is not our place to judge how people got here. We know these are very difficult times with the drought adding to the hardship that people are experiencing,” added Holman.
“It was very organized, very well done. Most of the people had gotten the message ahead of time,” Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said. “The deputies handled themselves compassionately. They handled themselves professionally, and I think that really helps.”
A fence was constructed just two days before the eviction to keep any new arrivals from entering.
“This is not an easy thing to do, for anybody to have to do. However, you have to recognize that my job is to keep people safe, and this is not a safe place, not a safe situation. It’s heartbreaking for me to have to do this,” Mims said while wiping away tears.
Also in tears was Maria Hernandez, a church volunteer from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mendota, who has come to know the residents on a first-name basis.
“I feel sad because I didn’t come more here. I feel like they’re my family. Sometimes they talk about their problems with me. They will live in the streets again in the cold and rain,” said Hernandez, who often cooked the Mexican food in her own kitchen and paid for the ingredients through sales of rosaries she makes.
Hernandez said she quit her day job to help camp residents.
Robert Huerta of the Poverello House in Fresno brought the organization’s van to the camp in the hope some residents would return with him to Fresno.
“It’s a place they can stay out of the rain. The will to come is all they need. We don’t require a Social Security number. We don’t even require an ID as long as they don’t look like a minor,” Huerta said.
Huerta added that staffers welcome the homeless for as long as they need the facility.
Mims said property owners should not allow squatters to get established.
“There are a lot of people in this community that would bring food, pets, rather than take them someplace safer,” said Mims.