PHOTO ESSAY: Choice & Consequence

HOLIDAY HUGS: Monica Villa embraces her dogs near the Christmas Tree outside her home – a tent area on private land bordered by Bear Creek, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, the Merced Auto Mall and Highway 99. Villa has lived there for about two years, and shares an encampment with about 10 to 15 other people who stay most nights. Previously, Villa was a resident of a large homeless encampment along Black Rascal Creek in Merced before city leaders approved a no-camping ordinance and forced the site's closure in 2010. She was raised in nearby Atwater, held many jobs throughout her live, and has family, including grown children, in the area. Villa says she was already helping donate items to the city's homeless camps when she decided to pitch her own tent. (TIMES PHOTO BY JONATHAN WHITAKER)

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