25 Cities project outlines ambitious plan to end Fresno homelessness

The Fresno BeeMay 30, 2014 

Fresno-area officials are vowing to find housing for at least 60 chronically homeless people within the next 100 days.

That is one of a handful of ambitious goals for Fresno City Hall as it gears up for the federally sponsored 25 Cities initiative on homelessness.

The initiative seeks to end veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin at a news conference on Friday noted that Fresnans on Memorial Day honored the men and women in uniform who gave their lives in service to their country.

"Unfortunately, many of the veterans who have dedicated themselves to protecting the home of the brave have no home of their own," Swearengin said. "That is what brings us here today."

The initiative's sponsors are the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness.

There is a leadership team in each city. Fresno's consists of the Fresno/Madera Continuum of Care, the VA Central California Healthcare System, the Fresno Housing Authority, Fresno County and City Hall.

Team members and other local homelessness experts met on Wednesday and Thursday to produce a 100-day plan of action. This first phase will be followed by other efforts, each built on the successes and lessons of previous plans.

The first phase's goals include:

• End homelessness for at least 60 people who are especially vulnerable if they remain on the streets.

• Increase outreach efforts to assess the needs of at least 200 homeless veterans and 100 chronically homeless people.

• Help 100 highly vulnerable people get their paperwork in order so they're eligible for help.

• Match 90 highly vulnerable homeless people with temporary (often called bridge) housing, a key step on the journey to permanent housing.

• Raise $10,000 for a fund to provide bridge housing.

Officials will review their efforts on Sept. 9.

Money will be pivotal. Swearengin said Fresno has a $100,000 grant for homeless housing, contingent on a $100,000 local match. She is challenging Fresnans to fulfill the match with donations. She said donations can be made by going to the Fresno First Steps Home website at www.fresnofirststepshome.org.

Fresno First Steps Home is a mayor-backed nonprofit that helps the homeless.

Swearengin and City Manager Bruce Rudd reviewed the city's long and often successful effort to end homelessness. They said the commitment among governmental, nonprofit and faith-based groups is strong. They said the teamwork is improving. They said the resources -- funding, housing options, personnel -- are formidable though far from sufficient.

Still, Swearengin said, it's never easy.

"What we've learned from past efforts is it's usually two steps forward and one step back," she said.

The 25 Cities initiative, with its worthy mission and high-profile challenge to do the seemingly impossible in just 19 months, is a golden opportunity, Swearengin said.

"Are we satisfied with where we are today? Of course not," Swearengin said. "Are we motivated to keep going, particularly as it relates to our veteran population? Absolutely."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

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