Tension and numbers were both high at Monday night's City Council meeting, with the chambers packed to the brim -- yet again because of the homeless issue.
Concerned Mercedians showed up in response to five tents set up on the Sierra Presbyterian Church grounds by former homeless residents from the Black Rascal Creek camp.
After the no-camping ordinance went into effect Wednesday, some of the homeless shifted to the church grounds for shelter. That move has caused an uproar among residents of the neighborhood surrounding the church. Many said they fear the area may become another campsite.
Stephanie Null, who said her fence backs up against the church, was at the meeting on behalf of other neighbors. "They are worried, they don't know who is there. We don't know them, we have families, we have the neighborhood, bus stop, a college, children. We didn't have a say in the church having these people," she said.
"They aren't sex offenders which is wonderful, but is the city going to have their tents checked for weapons? Is there a timeline for this community that is now at the church?"
Katherine Grave, who spoke at the meeting, said she wasn't homeless and has a house, but voluntarily pitches a tent at night and sleeps at the church. "We have someone here who is supervising, rules are being followed," she said as she stood in the doorway to the church Tuesday afternoon. "Most of them are really trying to do something. Not everybody has a job, but some of them do or they are trying something."
As of Tuesday afternoon, at least eight people were living at the church, according to Grave.
Homeless advocate Renee Davenport said the church is private property and for the past nine years has also served as a shelter. "We are trying to get people help if they need it," she said.
Mike Conway, city spokesman, said the property isn't subject to the no-camping ordinance because it only applies to city property.
However, he said, "we are looking into the ownership and finding out who is the owner."
Brian Perez, who used to live at the Black Rascal Creek campsite, now lives at the church and helps out with chores.
"Where is the City Council? Mayor, you said it best, 'people helping people,'" he declared. "I see some City Council trying to help, but I don't see everybody. We're humans just like you, we have feelings, we can cry, we can laugh."
And now they're doing all that on a church's lawn.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209)385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.