‘We have a homeless emergency.’ Fresno seeks state funds to address crisis

Homeless people in Fresno express opinions about the city’s no-camping ordinance

Homeless people talk about efforts to comply with the city’s no-camping ordinance, and the daily clean-up sweeps enforced by the police. People who are homeless take down their shelters, move, then set them back up.
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Homeless people talk about efforts to comply with the city’s no-camping ordinance, and the daily clean-up sweeps enforced by the police. People who are homeless take down their shelters, move, then set them back up.

Following a critical Fresno City Council vote declaring a shelter crisis, service providers to the city’s homeless community may have an opportunity to access more money during the upcoming years.

The council voted Thursday to declare a shelter crisis and apply for one-time funding from the state’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program.

The city is slated to receive about $3.1 million under the program, and the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care expects to receive another $9.4 million.

Once Fresno’s HEAP money is awarded, service providers could apply for funding for a triage center, bridge housing, outreach, services to homeless youth and more.

The vote prompted a long discussion between city leaders, advocates and people experiencing homelessness on the severity of Fresno’s longstanding issues and how to best spend the money.

“We have a homeless emergency in this city,” said Councilman Steve Brandau, who represents District 2 in northwest Fresno.

About 1,700 people in the city of Fresno are homeless, according to the latest Point in Time count conducted by the continuum.

Homelessness is the city’s top quality-of-life issue, and it encompasses many other issues such as human trafficking, substance abuse and affordable housing, Mayor Lee Brand said.

“We all know the best way to stop the cycle of homelessness is to put a roof over someone’s head, whether it’s permanent or temporary,” he said in a statement. “This funding will help us we will continue our successful efforts to connect Fresno’s homeless to the resources that will bring comfort and stability to their lives.”

Brand over the summer lobbied with Big 11 mayors from California, which resulted in Fresno and other cities successfully getting funds to help address the issue. Money will be available through June 2021. HEAP does not require matching funds from the city or continuum.

The funding strategy will follow the mayor’s Street2Home priorities — a homeless initiative he launched earlier this year.

Although the council approved unanimously the crisis declaration and application, some council members said they don’t agree with all of the plans to spend the money.

Brandau said he wished the council declared an emergency about a year ago, so a temporary shelter would’ve been erected.

The Fresno Unified School District and Marjaree Mason Center cosigned a letter to city leaders asking they make families with children a priority target for the funding.

The school district serves about 600 children categorized as homeless. “If a child doesn’t not have consistent, healthy patterns of nutrition and adequate sleep, there is little chance they will do their best in school,” the letter said.

Council President Esmeralda Soria, who’s west-central Fresno District 1 includes both Fresno and Central Unified, highlighted the fact about homeless children during the meeting. She said she would support a bigger shelter than what the application proposed.

“The issue will not go away with the scale of what’s proposed,” she said.

The application spending plan lists a 60-bed bridge housing shelter and a rapid rehousing rental assistance program for about 150 households over three years.

Both Soria and District 5 Councilman Luis Chavez, who represents southeast Fresno, voiced support for a low-barrier shelter. So did advocates and several people experiencing homelessness who spoke during public comment.

“When you’re homeless, you have to have somewhere to lay your head,” said Madison Allen, a 63-year-old man who said he’s living on the streets. “You do not have anywhere to go. We’re waiting to be criminalized. We’re already treated like that. It’s really cruel.”

Allen said people living homeless depend on legislators for help. “Without you, we’re lost and waiting on more trouble.”

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix