Upland Razes Second Homeless Encampment, Scattering Scores To The Streets

(January 15)  UPLAND—For the second time in the last 11 months, Upland municipal officials bulldozed a homeless encampment, scattering several score of those who were living there to other locations within and outside the City of Gracious Living.
Close to 100 people had settled into a location in the 2100 block of 11th Street at what is the city’s farthest west extension, just east of the city limits separating the city from Claremont at the San Bernardino County/Los Angeles County line.
Several of those dislocated from the makeshift neighborhood said they had been encouraged to move there by Upland police officers and Upland Mayor Raymond Musser after the city had in late February 2013 used its code enforcement division to encourage the owners of vacant property along Route 66 between Benson and Central avenues – i.e.,the 1700 to 1900 block of Foothill Boulevard – to bulldoze an approximately 40-acre patch of dense chaparral and undeveloped property that had been a haven for dozens of homeless.
The property that was cleared of its denizens this week, which dead ends at a fenced large gravel wash separating Upland from Claremont, has no clear owner and is shown as an encumbered asset per an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding. The site is one block south of Route 66, the scene of a similar unfortunate migration of the poor and hungry during the Great Depression described in the novel by John Steinbeck “Grapes of Wrath.”
With no owner to register a complaint about the uninvited habitants, many had lived there virtually unmolested for the last nine months.
Asserting that neighboring businesses and property owners had complained about the presence of homeless on the vacant property south of 11th Street and west of Central Avenue, officials went to court last week seeking a temporary restraining and obtained a court order on January 9, allowing them to give those encamped there a 72-hour notice to remove themselves and their belongings. Notice of the order was served immediately.
Police returned on January 13, informing those remaining that they had to vacate the premises by 2:45 p.m. Monday upon pain of their items being destroyed by a bulldozer. That time deadline elapsed but at 7 a.m. on January 14, four police officers and four city maintenance workers arrived, armed with two huge trash bins and bulldozers. Some of the more nimble squatters managed to drag their belongings – bicycles, blankets, clothes, sleeping bags, baby strollers and other wheeled carriers and in some case bicycles – onto the sidewalk as the bulldozers chortled to life and moved into place to begin clearing the lot.
Showing they meant business, city employees utilized the bulldozers to demolish the entirety of the encampment, using the front scoops of Caterpillars to dig into what had been people’s abodes, collecting up sleeping bags, blankets, tents, folding chairs and other items, then emptying them into the dumpsters.
Janine Batty, who had lived in the encampment north of Foothill and south of Cable Airport until last February, said she had moved to the 11th Street location after “the city of Upland bulldozed our other camp.  It was not weed abatement as they told everyone.  The mayor told us to come over here  [11th street].  We listened and obeyed.  I am a mother of four and a grandmother of four.  I am homeless as of October,   2012.  The city of Ontario took my home.   I am thankful for property that I am on [11th street].  We are blessed.  The church brings food for us.    Without a tent, I will get sick and die.  I cannot be in the sun.  I have a condition where I get real sick if I am in the sun.”
While the bulldozing was yet taking place, one of the encampment’s occupants told the Sentinel,   “Some nice folks gave me a tent that was probably worth about $2,000 when they bought it.  It was a good tent and I was living in it.  I rolled it up in a ball, but couldn’t carry it out myself.” She broke off her narrative and then said, “I wonder if the police will save it for me.?  I’m going to go down there and ask them.”  She then approached a group of police officers and city mainentance workers and asked them if they would set her tent aside for her. They refused and what had been her home was scooped up and discarded into one of the dumpsters. She merely shrugged her shoulders as she walked away,  shaking her head, a grimace of resigned hopelessness flashing across her face. Her male companion, laboring to keep all of his worldly possessions balanced on a  baby stroller hooked to a bike, was unable to assist her.
City officials said they had offered those displaced services, including having the San Bernardino County Department of Homeless Services visit the encampment on January 10 and 11 to see if any of those there might qualify for temporary housing or other forms of assistance, but on Tuesday morning most streamed in all directions away from the site, on their own.
Several of those who had been living at the encampment told the Sentinel that they had requested that city officials provide them with a dumpster months ago, when city officials had carried out an inspection of the property and asked how they could be of help. No dumpster was forthcoming until January 14, when the two giant trash bins were hauled in to serve as receptacles for the contents of the scoops of the fast acting bulldozers.
City officials have long been cognizant of the crude encampments that had proliferated in the field of chaparral just south of Cable Airport, where bedraggled shelters were begrudgingly tolerated. That property is and was owned by the Bongiovanni Corporation, with diverse holdings and a construction company empire that is focused elsewhere. The Bongiovanni family had for years made no effort to evict the uninvited settlers but was prompted to render the property less habitable last year when the city cited it for excessive vegetation. The use of bulldozers to clear the property resulted in the residents leaving, many or most of them to the 11th street location razed this week.
There was also a proliferation of homeless at Memorial Park. City officials, meaning the police, have grown increasingly more draconian with the people dwelling at that location in an effort to persuade them to leave. Many of those had migrated to the 11th Street lot, as well.
The issue had come to a head less than 24 hours before, at the January 13 city council meeting, where the council took up an emergency ordinance making it illegal to camp or store personal items in city streets or public places anywhere within the Upland City Limits. As an emergency ordinance, it became effective immediately upon passage. For good measure, the council also approved a non-emergency version of the same ordinance.
That night, the council chambers was flooded with people inveighing against the action the council was contemplating and the evictions of those subsisting at the 11th Street encampment that was to take place the next morning. The pleas to have the city council rethink its strategy for dealing with the homeless and either rescind or not enforce the court order did not persuade or dissuade the council from the action it ultimately took.
Michael Averkiou, a representative with the faith-based organization Calvary Chapel, requested that the council hold off on enforcing the restraining order for a month to give those being displaced an opportunity to save what meager possession they had and make an orderly transition.
“Why not give these people 30 days?” Averkiou asked. “Why does it have to be so abrupt?”
Averkiou asserted that giving the homeless the bum’s rush would likely result in creating a legal crisis. “They don’t have anywhere to go,” he said. “Any place they go, they are going to get cited.”
Steve Wade, an attorney who was formerly based in Upland who has since relocated his office in Claremont, said the action the city had initiated was unconstitutional and insensitive.
He called the city’s action heavy-handed and counterproductive to the goal of achieving a lasting and meaningful solution.
In remarks to the Sentinel prior to Monday’s meeting, Wade said he believed that property owners’ rights should be respected but that “I merely suggest that the manner in which it is being conducted, with encampments being bulldozed, along with all of the worldly possessions of the residents, is inhumane and illegal. The city…  has a responsibility to do this in a humane and orderly process, providing an alternate place for the residents, at least on a temporary basis  They are clearly the ‘least among us’ and deserving of our compassion and assistance, particularly for those willing to embrace a second chance.”
Upland City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow said the emergency ordinance is constitutional and will withstand any legal challenges, and that the city is on firm legal footing in making the evictions.

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