Several weeks ago, residents living along Tyler Avenue between First and Cedar started complaining of illegal activities taking place in a homeless encampment next to Highway 180.
Crimes such as burglaries in the area, drug sales, prostitution were being reported.
“Residents in the area were living in fear of their own safety.”–Mayor Jerry Dyer
“Residents in the area were living in fear of their own safety,” said Mayor Jerry Dyer during a Thursday news conference.
Police received so many calls they launched an effort dubbed ‘Operation Tyler Safe Homes’ involving 42 officers on Feb. 26.
On Wednesday, after police say they spent over 100 hours on investigative work, the operation culminated with search warrants and arrests. Officers seized drugs, stolen guns, and an illegal gaming machine.
Police say homeless people living in the camp were fearful because of the weapons on site, and the money they owed to the suspects who sold them drugs.
Dyer says those living in the homeless encampment are now safe.
“Our effort to house the homeless continues, and our effort to remove the criminal element from encampments,” said Dyer. He said the homeless in camps are often “preyed upon by individuals with the wrong motives.”
Search Warrants Served on Four Camps
Lt. Stephen Viveros says his team served several search warrants in the area, including at a residence and a business. He says officers found 76 pounds of marijuana and 2 ounces of methamphetamine in one of the tents. Police arrested Chong Moua and Ly Chann in the tent on narcotics charges.
“We also received information that people were going to these tents and gambling on site,” said Viveros. Officers followed up on information about a gambling device, which led them to a shed owned by Moua in a nearby storage facility. Inside, officers recovered another 14 pounds of marijuana.
Viveros says there was a generator at the location and on several occasions officers saw individuals putting fuel in it.
All told, Viveros says the street value for the marijuana is estimated at $150,000.
Viveros says in the two weeks his team observed the encampment, they observed over 180 instances of people arriving to purchase drugs or to take part in gambling activities.
Officers served a warrant at the home of Chia Lor for narcotics. Lor, a convicted felon, was taken into custody for possession of a shotgun, officials said.
Police are still searching for Hanepraseuth Hanevichit, 45, on suspicion of being in possession of a stolen firearm. Viveros says Hanevichit lived in one of the encampment’s tents.
Crimes Against Homeless
Police Chief Paco Balderrama said during the past year 74 homeless people were stabbed, 45 were victims of shootings and six were homicide victims.
“The role of the police department is to provide safety, not just for the workers, but also for the homeless population,” said Balderrama.
City of Fresno Getting Into the Hotel Business
Saying the city of Fresno doesn’t have enough rooms to house the homeless, Dyer said President Biden’s signature Thursday on his $1.9 trillion ‘American Rescue Plan’ will infuse much needed money into city coffers. Fresno should see $177 million from the COVID relief package sometime in May, Dyer said.
“We’re going to get into the hotel business very quick,” he said.
Dyer says the city is set to acquire 80 more beds at the Sands Hotel this week. He believes those beds will provide enough space for the homeless people living in an area south of Chinatown. “The Triangle” is the area south of Ventura Street where Golden State Boulevard merges with northbound Highway 99. Dyer says in the next couple of weeks, people living there will be moved into safe housing. Residents there are already receiving information about that.
He pointed to the success of a recent effort termed Project Offramp that offered housing to people living in tents along Highway 41 — with 73% of those contacted accepting housing and services. Dyer says that’s significantly more than the 2% acceptance rate from Fresno’s previous practice of offering people rides to the Rescue Mission or other temporary housing.
Dyer knows more housing is needed.
“We’re going to move forward as quickly as we can in purchasing as many motels as we possibly can with some additional funds,” says Dyer.