Stockton Officials Believe Fire at Homeless Encampment Damaged Bridge

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STOCKTON --

A fire at a homeless encampment in Stockton may have destroyed part of a highly used bridge.

Connie Cochran, a spokeswoman with the city, said the flames were called in about 3:30 a.m. Sunday on Wilson Way over the Mormon Slough.

Because of the damage, southbound traffic has been detoured onto Hazelton Avenue on Wilson Way while northbound traffic has been diverted onto east MLK Jr. Boulevard.

A Stockton city worker welded together a shiny new rail for the bridge on Monday, a day after city officials said a fire consumed part of the bridge’s deck.

" (Homeless encampments have) been a problem for years here in Stockton,” said Jon Mendelson, the associate director for the Central Valley Low Income Housing Corporation.

While city officials don’t have a cause yet, they believe the blaze may have been started by a nearby homeless camp. When FOX40 visited, we found makeshift tables and homes along with trash.

“People deserve better than living in tents and under freeways and under bridges,” Mendelson said.

He added that his organization has worked to get more people out of the slough and into shelters or permanent housing.

“But what we typically find is people don’t want to have to line up and leave every single day, they can’t keep any possessions in the shelter,” Mendelson said.

The city’s police department told FOX40 because of health issues, they can’t allow anyone to stay at the slough.

Public works, police and service providers visit every other weekend and clean up the mess.

"Unfortunately, what would often happen is they are just pushed from one property to the other,” Mendelson said.

Cleanups can work but only temporarily. For instance, another encampment at Hazelton Avenue is cleaned up constantly but within days will see more tarp and wood forming make-shift homes.

Cillia Miller has been living out of her RV on Hazelton.

"I haven’t got no resources to go anywhere, and I’ve got cancer,” she said.

Miller said some of the restrictions at shelters prevent her from staying there.

“Won’t accept dogs, you know, so I got to stay in this,” she said.

While city crews continue their repairs on the burned bridge, Mendelson hopes some day they will find more permanent solutions for people like Miller.

Stockton city officials said they finished the engineering field review late Monday afternoon. They are expecting analysis by Tuesday mid-morning and will provide the status of reopening at that time.

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