Councilmember Miguel Arias – whose district includes nine publicly funded homeless shelters along Parkway Drive, west of highway 99 – directed city staff to find a new security vendor to provide services.
At least one Fresno city councilmember wants a new private security firm at the city’s emergency and temporary homeless shelters along Parkway Drive.
During Thursday’s Fresno city council meeting, Councilmember Miguel Arias – whose district includes nine publicly funded homeless shelters along Parkway Drive, west of highway 99 – directed city staff to find a new security vendor to provide services.
In his request, Arias cited a recent Fresno Bee investigation — based on nearly two dozen interviews with shelter residents, former security guards, and homeless advocates, and a review of police reports and other public documents — which found disturbing examples of use of force by the private security firm Pacific Valley Patrol.
The investigation found that a shelter visitor said he was pepper-sprayed while waiting at an adjacent property for not leaving the shelter vicinity quickly enough, a shelter resident said that a security guard knocked down her door in the middle of the night and that four former guards said they were told to “(pepper) spray first, ask questions later” through the course of their work with the homeless. The city of Fresno failed to provide any specific guidelines for the actions of contracted private security guards.
Furthermore, former private security guards told The Bee they didn’t feel they had the proper training to handle the work with the unhoused population on Motel Drive.
“I’m sure you read The Fresno Bee investigative story or in-depth story on the security company issues with the folks who are providing security to the vendors that are operating the homeless shelters on Parkway Drive,” Arias said Thursday, addressing city council.
“It is my expectation, given what has been published …that they (contracted shelter operators) find a different operator that improves their service,” Arias said.
Private security at the city’s shelters “is a reflection on the city,” Arias said, and “it is a reflection that I know we would not tolerate if it was being done in any community center, warming center, or in this building as people are being invited in to engage with the city.”
Shelter operators didn’t say definitely what course of action they would take.
In a statement to The Bee, RH Community Builders and Elevate Community Services said they aim to provide the best services and will “continually evaluate all aspects of our operations, including our vendors for services like Security.”
“We appreciate Councilmember Arias’ commitment to ensuring the highest quality services are provided, and we’re confident that our mission, values, and goals align with his vision,“ Wilbur said.
The Bee reached out to shelter operator Turning Point of Central California for comment.
In an email to The Bee on Friday, Pacific Valley Patrol Chief Executive Officer Cristiano Lopes said the company is committed to providing high quality services and to being “a part of the solution to the housing crisis our community faces.”
“We recognize we have room to grow and are continuing to improve the services offered to our team, the staff we serve, and the individuals residing in the shelters we serve.”
He said the company’s staff has, and will continue to be, “trained by individuals trained in expertise in de-escalation, culture humility, and trauma response, to ensure that we are the ideal partner for not only the service providers, but also the individuals receiving services at the shelters.”
A new security firm at Parkway motel shelters?
On Thursday, the city council approved expanding the contract of another private security firm — American Guard Services — that the city has hired to provide services at several downtown buildings, including City Hall and Fresno Police Department headquarters.
Arias asked city staff if American Guard Services could instead be hired to provide security at the shelters on Parkway Drive, given that the firm has already been vetted and approved by city staffers in a 2019 bidding process, according to city records.
In response, City Manager Georgeanne White said that “if we wanted to” use our security vendor to provide security at city-owned shelters “theoretically, yes,” it would be possible.
Arias asked Phil Skei, assistant director of Planning and Development – the city staffer in charge of overseeing city homelessness initiatives such as the converted motel shelters – whether the shelter operators were planning to replace the security vendor.
It’s not immediately clear whether the shelters will replace Pacific Valley Patrol.
Skei said shelter operators have certain contract requirements, such as a notification stipulation. In other words, they must provide advanced notice to the company before replacing them.
“The firm that was named in the article is a firm that …(is) not operating at the number of sites that they were a year ago – it’s fewer sites,” Skei said. “I think that what you will see is the trajectory of their (Pacific Valley Patrol) engagement is going to continue as it has been over the last year,” Skei said.
He also pointed out that Pacific Valley Patrol isn’t the only company providing security at the city’s shelters.
McHenry Protective & Investigative Services started providing security at Sage Commons, a shelter managed by Turning Point for Central California. The firm took over security operations in August 2022, according to a September 2022 email statement to The Bee from the company owner, Jeromy S. McHenry.
McHenry is also providing security at the former Parkway Inn, a city-owned shelter currently undergoing renovations by Fresno Housing Authority. The city of Fresno received a grant from Project Homekey, the state project that allows municipalities to purchase, convert and operate converted motel shelters in order to acquire and operate the new shelter.
None of the complaints that surfaced in The Bee’s investigation mentioned McHenry Protective & Investigative Services.
More complaints emerge following Fresno Bee investigation
More individuals and families have come forth to complain about their experiences with shelter operators.
Alma Escarcega and her family of seven moved into Step Up on 99, a Fresno Housing Authority-owned, Project Homekey-funded shelter, when it opened in February 2021.
She and her family had lived along Parkway Drive for years and had been staying at the former Travel Inn & Suites motel until it had been purchased and converted by the city.
In an interview with The Bee on Wednesday, Escarcega said her then 13-year-old daughter had been verbally harassed on several occasions by Pacific Valley Patrol security, during their time living at Step up on 99.
Escarcega acknowledged that her daughter and other teens at the shelter had some behavioral and mental health issues and needs.
“Of course, when the kids move out of the motels (and into shelters), they’re coming with some stuff,” she said.
At one point, Escarcega’s daughter was kicked out of the shelter for two weeks after having conflicts with other teens onsite.
But the private security didn’t help matters, Escarcega said.
The onsite Pacific Valley Patrol security guard would call her daughter a “punk,” Escarcega said, “telling her she’s nothing but trouble, that she’s not needed there, who cares about her and what she’s gone through just like all kinds of stuff.”
Lopes declined to comment on this specific incident, saying he had no knowledge of the incident.
During a community meeting on Wednesday evening hosted by Arias, Mayor Jerry Dyer, and the Fresno Housing Authority, and their hired community revitalization consultants, Placeworks, Escarcega said the city shelters need staff with more “empathy.”
Editor’s note: The original version of this story said McHenry Protective & Investigative Services firm took over security operations in August 2021. The correct year is 2022.