EDITORIAL: Illegal camps are cleared, but Fresno homeless need shelter

City should set up temporary camp for those awaiting housing.

FresnoOctober 23, 2013 

Homeless people clear out their belongings while city crews clean up the homeless camp Wednesday at Palm Avenue and H Street in Fresno. The handmade sign reads "America please help they are taking my nothings."

MARK CROSSE — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Evidence of the gaping hole in Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin's plan to deal with rampant homelessness can be seen all over the city.

Homeless people are living behind businesses, along freeways and on the San Joaquin River bottom. Some are squatting in vacant homes and garages. During the day, they panhandle for cash and congregate near parking-lot recycling centers, where they turn in cans, bottles and cardboard for money.

The Swearengin administration is doing the right thing by clearing out the illegal homeless encampments downtown. These encampments were unsanitary and unsafe and created intolerable conditions for nearby residents and businesses.

The mayor's goal of helping the homeless gain independence through "housing first" is also laudable. This strategy provides immediate housing to individuals for stability and then attempts to treat the causes that put them on the streets.

Swearengin deserves credit, too, for launching Fresno First Steps Home, which provides funding to nonprofits and agencies helping the homeless.

But there's a fatal flaw in her homeless plan: housing is expensive and limited, and Fresno has an estimated 4,000 homeless. With the closing of the illegal encampments, most of them are left with nowhere to go but the street.

We recognize the city's stressed finances. But skilled leadership can move mountains at bargain rates. The mayor should assemble a team of city staff, homeless advocates and community leaders to set up a temporary emergency camp.

The camp should have rules, toilets, wash areas and security. It must be fenced and located in an area without adjacent businesses and homes. Most of all, it should be temporary.

Long term, Fresno needs a permanent, dormitory-style place for homeless waiting to transition into housing.

San Antonio, Texas, for example, has the 37-acre Haven for Hope, a nonprofit facility that can house up to 1,500 men, women and children.

Haven for Hope's greatest asset perhaps is its more than 80 federal, state and community partnerships.

It will require that kind of teamwork in Fresno to successfully address our homeless problem.

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