Politics & Government

Autry finds funds to add temporary housing for homeless

A day after the Fresno City Council denied money for Mayor Alan Autry's homeless plan, his administration found the cash needed to add 44 wooden sheds to a downtown shelter.

The council on Tuesday voted 4-3 to put the new sheds and expanded services at the Poverello House. The four votes were enough to approve a contract with Poverello, but five votes were needed to spend $250,000 in unbudgeted money to pay for it.

Autry's administration had proposed using unallocated surplus funds to cover the costs.

On Wednesday, Autry announced his homeless proposal will move forward with $100,000 already budgeted for homeless encampment clean-ups and $150,000 in unrestricted money.

The new funding plan doesn't require additional council approval.

City Attorney James Sanchez confirmed Wednesday that Autry's administration has about $600,000 in this year's budget that it can spend without the council's OK.

And because the Poverello contract received council approval, Autry can spend that money on temporary housing for the homeless.

Council Member Mike Dages, who voted against the homeless plan, is upset it's moving forward.

"It almost seems like [Autry's] going to do what he wants to do whether we like it or not," Dages said.

Dages said he's going to seek a change in city policy that would require the mayor to obtain council approval before spending more than $50,000 in unrestricted money for a single project.

Dages, a candidate for mayor next year, said he'll present the idea to his council colleagues at their Oct. 16 meeting. The council will not meet next week.

Council Members Cynthia Sterling and Henry T. Perea, who also voted against the plan, said they want city officials to focus on long-term solutions before spending money on temporary fixes.

The city is scheduled to meet with Fresno County leaders Nov. 7 to discuss a 10-year plan to help the homeless.

As a short-term fix, 30 storage sheds will be put on Poverello property at San Benito and G streets.

Fourteen sheds will be added to the shelter's Village of Hope, which currently has 22 sheds for homeless people who receive job training services.

Streetlights, sidewalks and curb cuts will be added to the area, and there will be portable restrooms, trash bins and a temporary office for county health workers trained to help the homeless receive mental health services and drug and alcohol counseling.

Two people can sleep in each shed, and city officials say the Poverello House additions will be in place by the end of November.

Autry said it was important that his plan move ahead with a new funding strategy so homeless people who sleep under bridges and on city streets will have shelter by winter.

"We simply can't let a political process stand in the way of something that must be done right away," Autry said from a podium that was set up next to the Monterey Street bridge overpass, where dozens of homeless people live in tents.

Clifford Williams, 58, has lived in the Monterey Street homeless encampment for about three months and said he'd like to move into a Poverello shed.

"It would be clean, and it would be new. This here, this is worn out," said Williams, pointing at ragged tents, tables and chairs. "This is a miserable place."