Homeless advocate steps up outreach efforts following homicide of unhoused man in Fresno’s Tower District
Cindy Delsid has just parked in the Dollar Tree parking lot in Fresno’s Tower District. “Today, I have some hats, some beanies. I had socks and I don't know where they are,” she says, rummaging through several bags in her car. She collects several items before closing the trunk.
Delsid is a homeless advocate in the Tower District. She hits the streets almost every day, getting in touch with unhoused individuals. “Talk to them. How's your day going? Are you doing OK? Do you need anything? So I usually have something in my car, always to hand out. 'Hey, you're hungry? I've got this, I've got that,’” she says.
She walks around the corner of the Dollar Tree store toward Fern Avenue, finding one man who has pitched a tent near Strummers. His name is David and he’s been on the streets for three months. “So, let me see what I've got for you,” Delsid tells him. “I've got some stuff in my car.”
She gives him snacks and a toothbrush. Some things she hands out are donated, but most of it comes out of pocket. She’s been doing this on her own for the past 20 years. Now retired, the 67-year-old focuses on the community where she lives. She worries about the unhoused, especially late at night. “It's very dangerous out here, really it is,” she says.
Delsid realized just how dangerous one Saturday in mid-December. She was handing out food with a friend when she found a man she thought was sleeping in the strip mall parking lot next to the Circle K at Olive and Palm. She took a closer look and saw he was bloody. He had several stab wounds and was taken to the hospital where he later died. He was identified as 27-year-old Angel Flores.
At the car wash across the street from the strip mall, 56-year-old Juan saw what happened the day Flores was found. He tells Delsid that he didn’t realize how serious it was. “I just thought he got beat up, but I didn't think he was dying,” he says.
Juan has been unhoused since he was released from prison in 2018. He does odd jobs to make cash and occupy his time, including cleaning up at the car wash. Juan says he abides by the rules of the streets to stay safe. “Mind my own business, most of the time. Yeah just mind your own business and try to get along with everybody,” he says.
Near the carwash, Delsid runs into a familiar face in the neighborhood. His name is Chris and he’s been living outside for 14 years. He was aware of Flores. “You know, I knew him and he was a nice guy. He never had any conflicts that whole time he was here,” he says.
Chris says he’s used to the dangers late at night when there’s more criminal activity. But he says the unhoused face other dangers. Just being constantly on the move and crossing busy streets is a big safety risk. “My friend Bert got hit in his wheelchair,” he says.
According to the Fresno Police Department, an average of 16% of pedestrian and bicyclist traffic deaths were homeless victims in 2020 and 2021. That’s 10 deaths out of 58 killed in 2021 and 12 deaths out of 63 killed in 2020.
“We feel it’s morally incumbent to recognize there’s violence and also people dying in the state of homelessness,” says Paul Jackson, secretary for the volunteer group Fresno Homeless Advocates.
On December 21st, the group organized a vigil in Fresno in honor of Homeless Persons Memorial Day, established in 1990 by the National Coalition for the Homeless. It recognizes homeless lives lost for the year.
Jackson says the vigil is purposefully held on the longest night of the year and during one of the coldest times of the year as a reminder of the hardships faced while unsheltered. “I get to go there dressed up and still it’s a little bit hard for me. It’s important that we do brave the cold and many of us there that night agreed on that. And it’s just one little night, just for a few hours actually,” he says.
Meanwhile, Delsid says she’s still shaken up from finding Angel Flores’ body. But the incident has inspired her to think about starting her own non-profit to benefit the unhoused and possibly open a shelter in the Tower District. “It was a dream 10 years ago, never happened. But it's now, it’s more feasible because I feel like now is the time and I really feel like it really started with the death of this young man,” she says.
Delsid stays motivated to continue her work because she says everyone needs to feel loved. And be seen. “People need to know that they're still alive living out on the street,” she says.
As for 27-year-old Angel Flores, his death is still being investigated.