Mayor announces homeless initiative at 2018 State of the City

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand announced a new collaborative initiative to combat homelessness, highlighting his address Wednesday at the Fresno Chamber of Commerce 2018 State of the City event.

The city and county — particularly Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero, whose district includes parts of the city — will form the Street 2 Home Fresno County program. The initiative also will work with community organizations to provide services to people with no home.

Saint Agnes Medical Center and its CEO, Nancy Hollingsworth, and the Edward & Jeanne Kashian Family Foundation together donated $100,000 to kickstart the initiative, Brand said.

"We cannot hope to conquer this crisis by maintaining the status quo," he said in his keynote address. "We must deal with homelessness compassionately and consistently."

Quintero said the program, which is still in the early planning stages, will include the Poverello House and Fresno Rescue Mission. It will focus on finding people transitional and permanent housing while connecting them to services.

"The important part is the commitment is there from both sides (city and county) to do something about it," Quintero said.

Brand mentioned his work with the Big 11, the mayors from the state's 11 largest cities. The Big 11 earlier this year gathered in Sacramento to lobby for state surplus money to tackle the homeless issue. Last week, legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to send $500 million in grants to cities to address homelessness.

The issue of homelessness is personal for Brand, who's shared openly that his daughter lived on the streets for two years.

"Homelessness can happen to anyone," he said on Wednesday.

Last month, the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care reported Fresno County's number of homeless increased by nearly 100 people from 2017, with about 1,800 people living without a home. The largest increase was in the unsheltered population, which totals nearly 1,500 people. The number of chronically homeless people decreased.

Also at Wednesday's event, which about 900 people attended, Brand recognized the Marjoree Mason Center with a community partner award for its work with domestic violence victims. And the mayor gave a key to the city to The Bee's former executive editor, Jim Boren.

The mayor also discussed a planned task force of Fresno police officers to battle illegal marijuana dispensaries as well as gangs and cartels that he said funnel heroin, methamphetamine and opioids through the city. Brand said the task force also will focus on ending human trafficking, which often is tied to gangs and drugs.

Since Brand started work as mayor in 2017, the city has reached multiple milestones: Two additional police report stations opened, as well as the new police station in northwest Fresno. The city's credit rating increased to A-plus. The FAX Q bus rapid transit system is up and running. The city launched two web-based consumer tools, the Eye on Water mobile app and FAASTER – the online customer service portal to track permits and building plans. And the FresGO mobile app reached 20,000 users.

The mayor also highlighted job creation and the opening of Fulton Street. He pointed out Fresno's unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in 50 years, but acknowledged the city's number of low-income residents and people who live in poverty.

Said Brand: "We need to look beyond statistics and remember that we work every day to change the lives of thousands of people in our city and offer them hope to realize their dreams of a better life."

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix