DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune
A group of five or six shopping carts filled with neatly folded blankets, clothing and other belongings, lined up along the river trail near Schnoor Avenue recently.
A growing group of the chronically homeless, allegedly drug-using population in Madera is again defiling the banks of the Fresno River, just north of the Tozer Bridge, according to area residents.
Makeshift tarps, tents, shacks and shopping carts litter both sides of the shoreline. Trails worn in the dry weeds lead down to blankets, sleeping bags and filthy mattresses hidden under scrub trees. Large piles of scattered debris from fouled and abandoned campsites line the riverbanks and float in the river near the city limit line.
North county resident and truck driver Steve Elkins said he recently was startled and disturbed by what he saw as he was driving home at 2 a.m. from his night job hauling freight.
“It was about 2:30 a.m. As I came around the corner on Raymond Road, there was a woman walking right in front of me, in the middle of the road. She was dirty and disheveled, not looking up or around and I almost hit her. She didn’t even look up. Then I noticed five or six other people along the roadsides. They looked like something out of the ‘Walking Dead’ movies — like zombies ... aimless, filthy, drugged-up, walking skeletons in rags. It was creepy, shocking and very disturbing. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was just sickening to think people are living in the bushes along the river like this. And I doubt the area residents have seen this or are even aware of it. If they had seen it, they’d be scared.” Elkins said.
Elkins said he had seen all the trash and homeless people before during the day, squatting in the shrubbery to relieve themselves and bathing in the river for some time now. The (homeless) men are on bicycles with their cell phones and backpacks, he said or pushing shopping carts filled with cans or debris.
“(This homeless encampment) comes and goes,” Elkins said. “They clean it up and it comes right back. But this seems larger. And these folks are living like animals and are turning our river into a dump and a sewer.
“Nobody should be living like this, especially with all the (assistance) programs available,” he said. “Why are the city and county (officials) allowing this, always turning a blind eye and not coordinating or doing something about this long term problem? What do we have to do or who do we have to call to get something done about this?”
Area residents have long been plagued with the growing homeless community, some of them mentally ill, pilfering trash and recycling bins, helping themselves to drinking water from residential hoses and taking anything of value left out or unsecured.
In November, a man walking in the area was attacked and mauled by at least four large dogs fed and kept by two of the homeless women as protection. The dogs were rounded up and euthanized by law enforcement and animal control.
Emergency medical services personnel and law enforcement officers say the area is rife with heroin overdoses and other drug use crises, and prostitution with it’s many male customers coming and going much of the night. During the winter months, grass fires started by the homeless cooking or kindling warming fires are not uncommon.
The colony of homeless people is about a half mile north of The Madera Rescue Mission, which feeds several hundred homeless at each meal.
The Madera Rescue Mission offers many outreach, service and recovery programs but has a strict sobriety policy and does not provide shelter for any who are using alcohol or drugs.