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Local businesses struggle with impacts of homeless people living by vacant building

Homeless people have been living near an abandoned building on South Chester Avenue, and it's causing problems for both the owner of that property and business owners nearby. It's a spot the owner had cleaned up and fenced last June, but homeless people have gotten back in, bringing trash, junk and mattresses.

"It's hard because we've been working so hard, cleaning, cleaning and cleaning," property manager Manuel Ayala told Eyewitness News on Friday. "These people just don't understand, and they just come, and they sleep, and just bring trash. It's hard to keep it clean."

On Friday, four men quickly left the property when a reporter got there. They had been near a large pile of blankets and other possessions at the side of the building. One man left, pushing a shopping cart.

And, a woman was found sorting through things at another big pile at the back of the empty building.

It was the owner of the Snappy Food store next door who had called Eyewitness News to complain about the impacts. Paul Singh said it's frustrating.

"Sometimes they're naked, and change their clothes," he said, adding he thinks there are up to 12 people living there.

"And, this is a public place, a convenience store, and we have kids and ladies coming." Singh said the people living outside the vacant building also don't have any bathroom or shower facilities.

The building at South Chester and Ming Avenue was a McDonald's, but it's been empty for about dozen years, Singh said. He had also complained about problems with homeless people, trash, and damage to the building last summer.

Eyewitness News checked last June 17, and found piles of debris, discarded furniture, and shopping carts. There was graffiti on some walls. And, a Kern County Code Compliance officer had posted violation notices, demanding the owner "abate" the problems.

The property manager said they cleaned up, and put up fences. But, on Friday there were at least three openings.

"They came back again after one week," Singh said, from next door. He said the homeless people come to his store, sometimes begging, and it makes his customers uncomfortable.

The woman at the back of the building said she's been there for about a month, and gave only her first name, "Estella." She was sorting through the pile of stuff, saying the men had brought it in.

"I can keep whatever I want, and I put to the side what I think they'll like or what will fit them," she said. "And I give away or sell some so we can get food or whatever."

Estella said she sleeps on the site, and she had checked her appearance in a small mirror hanging from the wall before doing an on-camera interview.

She also offered to give me a shirt. "I think it's new," she said.

Estella admits there's no bathroom or shower, but said they find other places for those needs. Asked about going to a shelter, Estella said that's not an option. "It's so hard to get into a shelter if you don't have kids with you," she said.

Asked if she felt safe enough, Estella said she had no problems there.

But, the property manager had told the people at the site they have to be out this weekend, because he's coming to clean up and get the fencing secure again.

Estella said they plan to leave, and said they'll also clean up.

But the property manager worries about keeping the people out. Manual Ayala said he's called police, but that hasn't solved the problem.

Eyewitness News called the Kern County Homeless Collaborative, and spokeswoman Christine Lollar said she has contacted their "outreach" spokesperson about the situation at that location.

Ayala said it's been frustrating.

"We try hard to keep these people out, but it's very hard," he said.

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