LOS BANOS, Calif. (KGPE) – CBS47 investigates after a community of people who are unhoused moved into an empty city lot in Los Banos.

Fires, trespassing, and theft are just some of the reasons tenants at the Rancho Mobile Home Park have called 911 over the years. Tenants say they don’t feel the city or police are doing enough about their unwelcome neighbors.

Our CBS47 investigation revealed at least 70 incidents reported to the fire department in the past two and a half years.

Los Banos is a town of less than 50,000, but just a block from Pachecho Blv. tents line the city’s largest encampment of people who are unhoused.

“I never thought it would be like this,” said Los Banos native Robert Soares who lives on the empty city lot.

A tattered American flag flies over Soares’s spot. A spot he built himself, out of plywood. A speed bag and a heavy-weight bag are reminders to Soares of his dream to start a boxing gym. He said he ended up on the streets after being released from prison.

“My wife said she would rather be in prison than homeless and I said excuse me?” said Soares. “And that is why mostly I became homeless to show her that I would rather be free than in prison.”

Over the years, the housing crisis across California is worsening. According to a Stanford University study, between 2014-2020 the number of unhoused individuals rose more than 40% in California, with over 160,000 people on the streets any given night.

“These are someone’s daughter, brother, or sister,” said Los Banos Police Commander Ray Reyna.

Reyna said the city does not have a homeless task force, and because of a lack of funding, the city encouraged the unhoused to live on this vacant property. The reasoning was that it would be easier to connect people to housing if they were in one spot instead of spread out.

“We come out here every day,” said Reyna.

The city put up a fence, brought in barbeques, and a porta potty, and each day city staff come out to offer a temporary room at a motel less than a quarter mile down the street.

However, some people say they feel like trapped animals.

“We are humans, we are homeless but we are humans,” said one woman who didn’t want her name to be shared. “They want to keep up in a cage for what?”

At its peak, Reyna said the camp had about 80 people living on the empty city property, but now it is down to a couple of dozen.

“For us, it is a big win,” said Reyna.

While some unhoused individuals accept city resources, others refuse those services. Just over the fence, the Ranchos Mobile Home park tenants feel like they are paying the price.

“I get it, everyone needs to live,” said Assistant Park Manager Chandra Lewis, who also lives in the park. “But at what expense? And that is how most of us feel. That you are letting them live here at our expense.”

Almost every night, tenants said they see fires burning inside the encampment. Tenants call 911 fearing an ember could send their own home up in flames, but they said nothing is done and the problems continue.

“The neighbors are scared, the tenants are scared,” said Lewis.

Reyna understands the frustration but said the city’s hands are tied because of the Supreme Court decision in Martin vs. Boise, which doesn’t allow the city to kick the unhoused off the public property unless there are enough shelter beds for all the unhoused in the city.

Los Banos does not have a homeless shelter. Without the beds, people who make their homes on a city lot are allowed to stay.

“Unless we can house them unless we can provide an actual bed for them, we cannot move them,” said Reyna.

Scared, frustrated, and running out of hope: the mobile home park tenants are at their wits end, but not ready to give up just yet.

“I know I have a big mouth, but this big mouth is going to defend people that are afraid to talk,” said Nunez. “I am not going to shut up. I am going to keep complaining until you do something about this mess.”