Candidates for the Fresno City Council’s empty seat say one issue is consistently among the top concerns expressed by voters: the human suffering and public unease caused by homelessness.

The city has more money than ever to spend on the problem, thanks to its share of a one-time injection of $500 million in state funds approved last year by then-Gov. Jerry Brown to address homelessness. The community’s share of that money is $13 million; the city of Fresno received $3 million and $9 went to Fresno Madera Continuum of Care, which manages homeless programs on a county level. More state funding will be coming from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget, as well.

Fresno’s controversial “no camping” ordinance, passed in 2017 and designed to prevent homeless encampments from taking root, remains on the books, though it’s been tied up in legal battles since last fall. And the challenge of homelessness shows no signs of abating; an annual, federally required survey showed the number of homeless in Fresno increased 16% from 2018 to 2019.

How does homelessness resonate in the city council’s District 2? Three of the five candidates hoping to represent the northwest Fresno district sat down last month for a question-and-answer forum presented by GV Wire and CMAC. Attorney Jared Gordon, business owner Mike Karbassi, and special-needs therapist Oscar Sandoval were asked about how the city has handled homelessness, and what they would do themselves.

Gordon: ‘A Tremendous Amount of Concern’ in District 2

Two candidates, business owner Lawrence Garcia and attorney George Herman, chose not to participate in the forum. A special election to fill the District 2 seat is scheduled for Aug. 13.

“There is a tremendous amount of concern about homelessness both in the district and I think across the entire city,” Gordon said.

Photo of Jared Gordon

Jared Gordon

Gordon said he supports opening shelters and transitional housing throughout the city. “There was a time long ago where homeless were largely concentrated in downtown Fresno. And that allowed us to forget about them, sadly,” he said. “But today we need the services to meet where the homeless people are. And I think that’s something that the city has sadly forgotten.”

New shelters scheduled to open soon in the city are indeed outside the Fresno core. A 50-bed triage center at Clinton Avenue and Highway 99, in the refurbished Hacienda Hotel building, is opening soon, operated by Fresno County Mental Health Services. A 30-bed triage in southeast Fresno, run by Turning Point of Fresno, is scheduled to open this month. Another Turning Point triage center with 37 beds is set to open in August on Golden State Boulevard.

Asked if a homeless shelter should be located in District 2, Gordon replied, “Absolutely. I think it’s appropriate and now necessary for us to have some kind of homeless services provided in every district in Fresno.”

Sandoval: Give the Homeless a Place to Go

Sandoval said he brought up that question while knocking on doors in the district, and noted that many were “apprehensive” about the idea. “The next thing I’ll say to them is, it’s better that (the homeless are) in an environment where they can get help. They know where they need to go rather than just walking around our neighborhoods.”

Photo of Oscar Sandoval

Oscar Sandoval

Taking the measure of his constituents was Karbassi’s first concern. “Whatever we do with land use in the district …  I’m gonna go to my residents first and talk to them. Because we have to mitigate any concerns residents have. That’s my No. 1 responsibility, and if we can do that then we’ll locate one in District 2.”

Karbassi noted there are several makeshift homeless encampments in District 2, and that the district’s residents “want something done right now.” He said it is possible to enforce the no-camping ordinance “compassionately and responsibly.”

Karbassi: ‘Don’t Want to Reinvent the Wheel’

“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel when it comes to homelessness. I want to look and see what other communities have done,” Karbassi said. He supports the idea of a “low-barrier,” government-sanctioned encampment with solutions for personal hygiene such as handwashing stations. He said the encampment could serve as a triage center, where staff could determine short- and long-term needs, such as drug treatment or transitional housing.

Photo of Mike Karbassi

Mike Karbassi

Sandoval said he supports a “multi-pronged” approach to homeless that includes providing several levels of housing, addressing mental health issues, and treating drug addiction. “I think the first thing we have to do is remember that they are human,” Sandoval said. “I think homelessness kind of takes that humanity away, and you kind of just see them as an object.”

Sandoval said he doesn’t support the city’s no-camping ordinance, calling it “a bridge too far.”

Gordon said he is a “strong supporter” of the no-camping ordinance. He sees homelessness as a two-way street, where those in need should be treated with dignity, while the homeless shouldn’t be allowed to infringe on the rights of others by trespassing or damaging property. “But in order to do that we need to build housing and at least some kind of shelter that allows the homeless — with dogs, with children — to come.”

3 Responses

  1. Dee Jones

    I dont believe any of you have spent a decent amount of time talking to the homeless around here. I have. I did not find one that wanted help regarding shelter or otherwise. They told me they liked their way of life and wanted to be left alone. As a city we have provided shelters of various kinds. Even tiny homes. And they were destroyed. Also, some of the homeless bragged they were hiding in plain site because of warrants etc. They brag about not being scared of police or otherwise. First, move recycling centers to outskirts of town. No more carts to move belongings. Get a donated warehouse with donated plastic cans like homes use at curb. Have a time set that homeless can come go through their things. They can only put as much as can can hold with lid shut. It will give them safe place for certain belongings. Also, let’s use ordinances and laws we already have that require adults to gave legal and current ID on them. Have a kiosk or similar to get them ID AND post office boxes so that they may receive benefits whether it be SSI or welfare or whatever so that they have some form of regular income. Then maybe that’ll cut down on petty theft and issues with the recycling. Recycling they take from neighbors is taking from City. Also, what about them working at recycling center or with getting fellow homeless set up with ID etc? Then we can try to work on the addictions. But as long g as we make available so many liquor stores and not requiring ID so that cops can check who is walking among them providing drugs our efforts will be fatal. And last I recall sleeping on sidewalks and loitering is not legal.

    • Forgotten

      You haven’t spoken to ALL!!! There are so many homeless people, families that you don’t see on your corners or streets!!! Yeah there are actually homeless families that have jobs!! That live in their cars and sometimes stay in motels which is not a home!!!!! Do you have any idea what it’s lie to get up and go to work from your front seat every morning!!! I see someone I love do that every morning and take care of me and his brother!!! Drive to Vagabond inn that’s not a hotel, it’s a apartment complex!!! University Inn, all of these places!! I’m sorry people seem to forget about the families that are not on the streets that are homeless!! That would give anything for a home

  2. Isabel

    I absolutely agree with Sandoval who states that homelessness should be approached as a multi pronged issue. Mental health should be a priority as well as seeing them as what they are-human. We need to come at this head on with care because whether you like it or not-they are members of our community and we need to help one another


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