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Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2008 at 2:29 PM
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Residents of the Ontario encampment who couldn't prove any affiliation with the city were evicted; those allowed to stay were moved and the site was bulldozed
eviction_003.jpg, image/jpeg, 2272x1704
ONTARIO - The residents of "Ontario Tent City," a Bushville formerly home to approximately 400 homeless people, were evicted today and their possessions bulldozed. "I have nowhere to go," and "I don't know what I'm gonna do," were the refrains heard over and over.
The few residents who were allowed to stay were relocated to a lot across the street from the main settlement to allow for "improvements."
The city government set aside the plot of land, about the size of two city blocks, in October of 2007 in order to provide an alternative to the people that were removed from smaller encampments near the Ontario Museum of History and Art and elsewhere. Since then, awareness of the camp spread through word of mouth and through the reports of print and electronic media. The city provided port-a-potties and trach removal, but the bulk of the resources were provided by volunteers, including church groups, charities, and local activists.
On March 7 however, the city announced that the area would be limited to those who could prove affiliation to the city of Ontario through school records, bills, paystubs, or by having a resident relative vouch for them. Non-Ontarians, they said, would have to leave by March 24.
One area church allowed some inhabitants of the encampment to use the church address so they could get identification with an Ontario address and therefore be eligible to remain, but for most, it was too late.
During the past two weeks, residents have been intimidated into leaving of their own regard. First was the edict declaring the Bushville off-limits to minors. Then came the announcement that prompted a march to city hall: No pets allowed. For many camp-dwellers, their dogs were the only family they had. The city started segregating residents by
assigning different-colored armbands. Many people preferred to leave rather than be so branded.
Tensions ran high, with fights breaking out over the diminishing resources (the city also instituted a permit requirement for any organization wanting to provide food or other goods.) "I've been here since it began, and it's never been like this," one woman told me yesterday.
By yesterday, about 200 people had left, and spirits were low. Those that remained were hopeful that an injunction being sought by the ACLU to stay the eviction would be granted. Others had lost hope entirely, with several people openly considering throwing themselves in front of passing trains. The residents of the encampment have survived a great deal: tough economic times, family problems, substance abuse and mental health issues, and attacks from right-wing radio hosts John and Ken. But for many people, the eviction represented a breaking point. "We're homeless, getting kicked out of a homeless camp. How would it make you feel?" a women, near tears, lamented.
At six o'clock this morning, the only light came from a few small campfires and the headlights of the occasional passing car. All was tranquil, but the peace was an uneasy one. Newsvans from Telemundo, KNBC, and KABC were all present, setting up lights and cameras. Those who were already stirring rummaged through their possessions and those that had been abandoned.
"It doesn't seem like we're going to have enough time to pack our shit up. Are they really gonna kick us out at eight?"
At four after six, large trucks arrived, depositing trash receptacles on the east, north, and west sides of the camp.
A man wearing a small sign around his neck that read "More Love" saw I had a camera and was jotting down notes. He approached me, identifying himself as David Bush, and asked if I was with the media. He shared with me his efforts to get the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to delay the eviction for at least four hours. "We're asking people to call them, the city, and the police department."
Later, volunteers told me that he had only been there the last two weeks, and that he was "stirring up trouble" by going from tent to tent to encourage the inhabitants to resist police efforts to evict them.
At ten after six, a young woman asked me if I had a light. "Sorry," I said, "I don't. Are people starting to get worried?" "I'm not," she replied with confidence. "No. Wherever they take me, that'll be fine."
At 6:20 trash trucks moved in to empty the contents of city dumpsters located on the perimeters of the camp. The channel seven news reporter began filming, and the reporter from KNX interviewed Mike Dunlap. I waited for the call from the KPFK newsroom, a representative of which assured me he would call at 6 and again at nine. They never called.
By 6:30 it was already fairly bright out, although the moon was still providing most of the light. More people began to awake. "It's D-Day. It's fucking D-Day," I overheard. Then the first cop showed up. A motorcycle unit, he circled the block, just making his presence known. He was followed by two cruisers at quarter 'til, who split up and make rounds of their own.
The cops began setting up their staging area on an empty lot across the street from the northwest corner. I saw tractors and bulldozers parked just up the street--just out of sight of the residents.
Just after seven o'clock, the police invaded the camp, interrogating people. "What about you? What's your status today?" "Whose stuff is this?" "Are you staying? You need to move across the street."
Residents offered little resistance. "We're leaving," one woman told them. "My friend just had a heart attack this week. We can't handle the stress."
I spoke with a man who was packing up his tent. "My ID says Upland, so I guess I'm heading up to Upland. I'll park myself right in front of City Hall. They say I'm not their problem, so I'll go make myself Upland's problem."
At 7:10, the first tractors moved in. They started with the northwest corner, plowing piles of peoples' possessions into the back of a city trash truck. News cameras huddled around, eager for a shot of the action.
Eight AM came and went without much change. There was no sign of the ACLU, who had promised to show to protect peoples' human rights, and residents didn't seem surprised that the bulldozing began early. People wearing dark green vests reading "Counseling Team" began making patrols. "Everybody's sorry, but nobody wants to help," said a woman after an encounter with them.
The city set up portable awnings just in front of the police staging area with representatives from Mercy House, the agency contracted by the city to "handle" the situation, code enforcement, and the county behavioral health office. I got in line to get my group's permit to provide food and other resources. Once I got it, I figured I had better get the
"official" side of the story.
I interviewed Jeff Higbee, a detective with the Ontario Police Department who was an "authorized public information officer." When I asked him to give a brief explanation of what was going on, he gave me the sugar-coated version, detailing all the wonderful things the city was planning on installing for the homeless.
I asked if there were any plans to use force if people resisted or refused to leave. "We're not planning on using force, or even arresting anyone," he answered.
When asked if officials from ICE or any other immigration agency were involved in removing people without documents, he denied it.
When asked where the people were supposed to go, he replied that the city was encouraging people to go back to their home cities, and even offered them free rides.
"In 1948, the UN issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 25 says that housing is one of those universal rights. What do you say to the people that say that this eviction is a violation of human rights?"
He denied that anyone's rights were being violated, pointing out that people were being allowed to stay across the street.
Judy, a representative from Mercy House, invited me to a meeting of charitable organizations and other caregivers to be held on Thursday, April 3rd, at seven PM at First Lutheran Church, located at 203 E G St in Ontario. She said that volunteers and other concerned individuals were encouraged to attend.
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