Dozens evicted from overpass homeless camp resettle in Turlock parks

Turlock officials post 24-hour vacate notices at Broadway Park

Turlock Fire and Police posted trespassing notices telling homeless residents to remove their possessions from local park
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Turlock Fire and Police posted trespassing notices telling homeless residents to remove their possessions from local park

Dozens of homeless people evicted from an encampment under a Turlock overpass last week have resettled in the city’s parks. The change has caused friction between the homeless and city officials at one park in particular.

At least 30 people are staying in and around Broadway Park, a high-visibility park between North Broadway and North First Street near downtown and just two blocks from the Turlock Police Department.

The city in September suspended its “unlawful camping” ordinance in response to a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that says prosecuting people for sleeping outdoors when there are not enough shelter beds or alternatives amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The police department is, however, utilizing two other city ordinances, which the homeless say is intended to drive them from the parks and they have nowhere else to go.

People can still be cited for erecting tents or storing their property in the parks.

Sgt. Russ Holeman said the goal is to achieve compliance, and warnings are always given first. He said that as of Tuesday, only two people have been issued citations for failing to take their tents down, and no one has been cited yet for storing property.

Turlock posted notices at Broadway Park on Monday ordering people to remove their property, and again Tuesday afternoon.

Miranda Stevens, who has been homeless for three years, said she is fortunate to have a vehicle for her and her family’s storage but most others have nowhere to keep their possessions but in the same park they sleep in.

She thinks the city is trying get around the Appeals Court decision by making the parks as inhospitable as possible and nearly impossible for the homeless to comply with the city ordinances.

Holeman said, “At 3 a.m. we could find many people in violation, but we are also empathetic to what they are going through. We will delay our response to enforcement of particular codes with the realization that it is 30 degrees outside and we don’t want to put them out in the elements.”

He said officers have been coming to the parks usually around 8 or 9 a.m. to ensure compliance.

Holeman said they have also been responding to other calls throughout the day for verbal disputes and complaints from the public about municipal code violations. Officers responded to seven calls on Monday, he said, compared to a few a week before the camp underneath the Golden State Boulevard Overpass was shut down on Thursday.

Stevens said there is always a small group of people who bring negative attention to a large encampment but, for the most part, the people at Broadway Park are self-policing and cleaning up after themselves.

She said the city recently locked the dumpster, which she perceives as another effort to set anyone staying there up to fail.

Stevens has been staying at Broadway Park with her boyfriend and three children in their Chevrolet Suburban since earlier this year.

The influx of new homeless to the park has brought more attention from the police.

“Us being homeless as well, even though we might not agree with all these people, we do have to stick together and come together to work on things; otherwise nothing will change,” Stevens said.

While Turlock City Manager Bob Lawton told The Bee last week that he has no plans to model what Modesto is doing with Beard Brook Park, Stevens said the city needs to do something.

At the very least, she said, the city needs to provide some type of storage facility at either a reduced rate or in exchange for a service like cleaning up trash.

City officials cite public health issues as the primary concern for a large encampment.

But Stevens thinks it’s because the homeless are perceived as an “eyesore.”

“I understand people want to see a nice community, but if your only issue is that you don’t like looking at the misfortune of people, to me it is kind of pity, close your blinds, watch your TV, do something else,” she said.