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About 350 more people are homeless in Fresno and Madera this year compared to 2018, according to new numbers announced on Friday, but leaders hope with new funding sources they can provide new and better services to slow the growth or cut numbers.
“We need to step up our efforts and rise to the challenge” of addressing the problem, Mayor Lee Brand said during a news conference. “We’re only going to solve this working together.”
The biggest leap in the number of homeless people happened in the city of Madera, where 260 people are homeless without shelter. That number grew by 83%, according to the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care’s 2019 Point in Time count.
The “point in time” tally gives the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development an estimate of how many people are known to be homeless so funds can be distributed to the nonprofit agencies that serve such people. The tally is collected over two nights and one day in the winter as volunteers hit the streets to hand out questionnaires to collect information from people without a home.
In the city of Fresno, 1,152 people are homeless, and about 300 more are homeless but living in some sort of shelter. The number of unsheltered homeless people is up by 23 percent from last year.
In total, homelessness in Fresno and Madera counties grew about 17%.
On Tuesday, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors passed unanimously a list of priorities to address homelessness. The list included transportation to services, particularly for women and children, and roving outreach. Supervisors Steve Brandau and Sal Quintero voted against an action to award contracts to service providers, questioning why housing wasn’t the sole focus of agencies and what’s different about this year’s plan. Both Brandau and Quintero formerly served on the Fresno City Council.
The Fresno City Council will vote on the priorities in the coming weeks.
What’s different this year, said Shawn Jenkins, the chair of the continuum, is that many of the plans and services have funding.
Both the city and county are slated to receive emergency state funding earmarked during former Gov. Jerry Brown’s last year in office specifically geared toward homelessness. The plan for that funding is to begin rolling out this summer 90 more shelter beds, 33 bridge housing beds, diversion services for about 300 people, rapid rehousing and landlord mitigation and engagement services.
“We want to make sure we’re using this new money in an effective, strategic manner, giving exits to shelter,” Jenkins said. “We do not want to hide our homeless population. We want to bring them in, shelter them and put them back into housing and get them back into the community.”
Fresno County’s 14 priorities to address homelessness
Address jurisdictional overlaps (local, State, Federal, and private) collaboratively.
Increase transportation to outpatient programs and regular prenatal/medical care for pregnant and parenting women and children who are homeless.
Roving formalized coordinated community outreach in conjunction with law enforcement, through Fresno Madera Continuum of Care or otherwise, to ensure that efforts are aligned and data is tracked.
Assistance to build housing stock, increasing safe overnight housing (24-48 hours), and a centralized approach to single room occupancy units.
Priority access to emergency housing for pregnant and parenting women and their children, and to families with children with significant medical issues as it is difficult to manage the continuum of care when the family is homeless.
Real-time accurate number of shelter beds available and increase the number of non-faith based shelters.
Additional “wet” shelters that do not require the person to participate in a program, person can be high or drunk to use the facility and not be turned away.
Education regarding available services and shareable system to track linkages
Improved data on the homeless such as length of homelessness (acute vs chronic), cause of the homelessness, is it a family, individual, minor without family support.
A formalized assessment of housing and shelter needs in rural communities.
Strong centralized structure for homeless funding and service decisions and expanded distribution of funding opportunities.
Comprehensive case management for homeless clients and improved access to primary healthcare and medication for chronic diseases; perhaps partnering with Federally Qualified Health Clinic or UC San Francisco.
Increased substance use disorder services and mental health services throughout county.
Enforce ordinances that address hazardous or unsanitary conditions, which constitute fire, health, and/or safety risks.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version. The list of priorities to address homelessness was passed unanimously.