New Fresno homeless shelter will take in just about anybody, ex-felons included

The city of Fresno has made more than 200 new beds available for the homeless in the past 60 days – and the latest shelter is even set up to take people convicted of sexual violence, according to a city councilmember.

The shelter – the Golden State Triage Center on southbound Golden State Boulevard near Chestnut Avenue – has room for 37 adults and will be run by Turning Point, a nonprofit that operates one other facility.

Turning Point owns the building but it’s been empty for more than a year.

The city of Fresno last year got about $3 million in state funding for homeless-related efforts and the county got another $12 million, according to Councilmember Miguel Arias, who represents District 3, the home of the three new shelters.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new budget this year increased homeless funding for many large cities in the state. About $275 million will go to cities including Fresno that have a population of at least 300,000.

Counties will get $175 million and regional agencies called continuums of care will receive $190 million.

Arias on Tuesday described the triage housing as “very clean and modernized units” with a central kitchen and laundry. The shelter also has space for pets.

Shelters limited to 50 beds

“We are limiting the size of shelters to 50 beds because we don’t want to create any permanent skid row in any part of town,” he said. “This facility will not house families with young children. ... This facility is more designed for (adults) including sex offenders.”

Commonly, if people can’t be allowed into a shelter because they are a registered sex offender, they end up sleeping on freeway embankments or pockets of downtown Fresno, Arias said. Embankments, which are often near schools and homes, are common destinations because they are owned by the state and not overseen by Fresno police.

He said applicants will go through an intake process so officials will know who is staying at the site. He stressed that the continuum is being purposeful in separating the adults and women with children.

Officials estimate one or two of the 37 tenants at any given time could be a sex offender.

Keeping their distance

“This (triage) is the most secure way to make sure sex offenders are adhering to their limits not to be around schools, parks and other sensitive uses,” Arias said. “It allows us to monitor them in an industrial area.”

In California, sex offenders are required to stay 2,000 feet from a park or school. The triage center is about a mile from its closest school, Malaga Elementary. The next closest is more than 8 miles away.

The triage center, which was once called Motel California, won’t require background checks and is on a remote part of the former Golden State Highway.

Other facilities, like the former Hacienda Hotel near Clinton Avenue and Highway 99, accept children. They require background checks and are closer to schools and parks.

Fresno’s continuum of care is a joint effort with Madera County. There are plans for shelters in Madera, Reedley and across Fresno.

In the city of Fresno, 1,152 people are homeless, and about 300 more are homeless but living in a shelter, according to a tally this year. Homelessness in Fresno and Madera counties grew about 17% from the previous year, the tally showed.

Triage centers require the tenants to be out within 90 days, but have a greater focus on getting people into a permanent home, according to Jody Ketcheside, regional director of Turning Point. The tenants are allowed to stay 24 hours a day and have access to mental health and other resources.

That’s a change from the days when homeless people were allowed to stay the night but had to leave in the morning, she said.

Spees: Better use of resources

The quick turnaround method of shelters like the triage are a smart use of tax dollars, according to H. Spees, the director of strategic initiatives for Mayor Lee Brand.

“Our continuum of care was very wise in planning the use for these resources both for the city and the county,” he said. “And not in investing in big buildings, but going to trusted agencies that already have facilities that could be repurposed.”

Officials said the shelter had filled up within 20 minutes, saying it’s an example of Fresno’s need.

Councilmember Esmeralda Soria of District 1 said she’s confident the City Council is moving in the right direction in focusing on housing and not criminalizing poverty and the homeless.

She said the day the shelter opened she met a former firefighter and victim of domestic violence, stressing that not every homeless person is a drug addict.

“These individuals could be our brothers our sisters, our aunts and uncles. Even our grandparents,” she said. “There are people out here that are seniors. They could be our grandparents.”

Thaddeus Miller: 559-441-6015, @thaddeusmiller

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.