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Ag at Large: Hosting the homeless leaves farms trashed
Ag at Large

Ag at Large: Hosting the homeless leaves farms trashed

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Much that’s written about the homeless population emphasizes the burden it imposes on cities, but many farmers, especially those close to cities and even smaller rural communities are having to deal with increasing numbers of unwelcome guests.

Few California farms are fenced, leaving acreages adjacent to roads and open areas accessible to foot traffic. If the farm features trees or vines they both shelter and hide human traffic and activity and the broken-down household possessions and baggage that the homeless element carries with it – or leaves behind if it moves on.

The larger the farm property and the more densely it is planted, the more susceptible it is to harboring unwelcome and transient guests. Patrolling the farm to detect unidentified visitors is not part of the daily routine for most farmers. A one-night-stand for a homeless person or vagrant easily stretches to a week. By that time a temporary location has become a well-supplied and usually messy hangout, a temporary home.

The number and amount of “furnishings” homeless intruders bring to his, her or their new custom abode can be enormous. They often include electrical appliances, even refrigerators. What prospects they have for plugging in the appliances is a mystery. Unfortunately, toilet facilities, even disconnected, are seldom part of the furnishings, meaning that human waste often accompanies the lodging by the itinerants.

More can be written about the inconvenience, the health disadvantages and the impropriety of housing unwanted guests, but the real issue farmers are concerned about is preventing the practice and the disadvantage it represents to their security and well-being. Reports of tool and equipment thefts are common. Even hired workers need to hide or lock up their lunches when they work where there are homeless.

Some growers, law enforcement personnel and concerned citizens gathered to discuss the issue as it affects farmers in the Marysville-Yuba City area. Some of their comments and conclusions were reported in the Sept. 2 issue of Ag Alert, the weekly publication of the California Farm Bureau. Reporter Christine Sousa said grower Michele Smith-Barker, who mentioned several trespassing violations on her property, was reluctant to push the issue to her neighbors, and said it must be resolved by working together.

An attorney told the group that law enforcement is likely to act if property has been unlawfully occupied recently, but long-term sitters may require initiation of legal action. At the same time he said evictions have been slowed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and he warned property owners inspired to use “self help” eviction techniques that they may encounter liabilities.

One issue that some other growers have mentioned is injury to trespassers. Because some farm work is done at night or the poorly lit early morning, chances of encountering and injuring a sleeping or drug-impaired trespasser are increased. Once on farm property illegally the uninvited guests may wander away from their usual roadside hang-outs, and so surprise equipment operators deeper in the property.

Farm owners who operate near cities can probably learn some helpful means for dealing with potential homeless intruders by acquainting themselves with the methods and means that their neighboring cities are employing. If the issue has a solution, that will give them a chance to be part of it, always better than being part of the problem.

No question that farmers and city dwellers can gain from working together. The cooperation is energized when an issue that troubles both is resolved cooperatively. Let the farmers national motto of “Get ‘er done” echo right across the city limits sign.

Don Curlee covers agriculture in California. He currently resides in Clovis.

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