EDITORIAL: After camps are cleared out, what's next for homeless?

FresnoAugust 28, 2013 

HOMELESS

City of Fresno work crews in orange vests begin clearing out a homeless encampment along F Street on Monday morning, August 26, 2013 in downtown Fresno, Calif.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

The city of Fresno is doing the right thing by clearing the multiple homeless encampments in or near downtown. These camps are filthy, unhealthy, dangerous and a blight on surrounding neighbors and businesses.

But city officials — in concert with homeless advocates, faith-based groups and business leaders — must now take the next step and provide more clean, safe emergency shelter for people living on our streets.

Under Mayor Ashley Swearengin, the city has adopted "housing first" as the linchpin to ending chronic homelessness. This makes sense in that housing first has been judged effective by some — but not all — homeless advocates and it is the model endorsed by the Obama administration.

But the city's interpretation of this strategy is too narrow. The transitional housing that has been built and is being built by the Fresno Housing Authority, a city-county partnership, is expensive and serves far too few of the homeless.

With no place to go, those without roofs overhead set up camp close to where they can get meals, take showers and recycle what they have scavenged for pocket change.

Then the cycle begins anew: large numbers congregate in these unofficial camps, the criminal element moves in to profit off of drug sales and prostitution, and neighbors rightfully complain.

City officials vow that they no longer will permit these camps. The homeless, they say, won't be rousted while sleeping in public places at night but must move on at daybreak.

This strategy might work in the warmth of summer, but it will become an inhumane recipe for disaster for some of Fresno's estimated 14,000 homeless when winter arrives.

We recognize that homelessness is a complicated problem that will never be solved because it often involves substance abuse and mental illness. We recognize, too, that Fresno's underperforming economy provides City Hall with scant resources to help the less fortunate.

But somehow Swearengin and other community leaders must find a way to better fill the glaring gap between living on the street and moving into one of 69 transitional units at the $11 million, gated Renaissance at Santa Clara.

 

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