Fresno makes ‘good first step’ to address homeless crisis. Here’s what it includes

Over the next three years, the city of Fresno will use roughly over $3 million in state funding for a low-barrier homeless shelter dedicated to individuals and families, the City Council decided this week.

The funding comes from state surplus money, called the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), which gives money for a strategy in which the city will partner will the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care. The Continuum is slated to receive about $9.5 million. The program funding will be paid to the city through 2021.

A low-barrier shelter has minimal requirements for entry. Some of the services will include resources for behavioral health, substance abuse and job readiness programs.

Mayor Lee Brand, along with mayors from California’s other 10 largest cities, identified homelessness as a top-priority problem and successfully lobbied for the money.

“The scope of the problem is really big all over the state and in Fresno,” Brand told the City Council on Thursday. “This money is not going to solve the problem but is a good first step in addressing this problem.”

The Fresno City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the $ 3 million spending plan, which includes $1.5 million on a triage center that will provide a 24/7, 100-bed shelter at multiple sites throughout the city. About $500,000 will go toward homeless family services; another $500,000 go to outreach where homeless people are connected to services; and $100,000 for workforce development.

The council agreed to seek service providers in partnership with Fresno County as long as contractors abide by accountability measures.

Under the HEAP agreement, service providers must provide the city with daily activity logs and monthly reports on the number of people who are served.

The city also pledged to engage the community where services will take place by providing notices to residents and businesses within 1,000 feet and holding informational meetings. All contracts will require City Council approval.

Brand said the mayors are hoping to gain future money again and have been cautious not to launch efforts that will require additional, sustained funding.

The City Council expressed reluctance to move forward with a spending plan proposed by the mayor in January, citing doubt about the strategy’s effectiveness and accountability for contracts.

But after a council subcommittee met with the mayor’s staff in the subsequent weeks, those concerns were resolved and resulted in a unanimous vote on the spending plan accompanied by the accountability measures.

“I think we’re all just really trying to get to that point where we actually help these folks,” said District 5 Councilman Luis Chavez.

Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.