Elections

Does NW Fresno Need Homeless Shelter? Council Candidates Weigh In

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The pervasive problem of homelessness reaches well beyond the shelters and soup kitchens in downtown Fresno. Four men who want to represent the city’s northwest region on the city council agree to that.
They disagree sharply over what specifically should be done in District 2 to deal with homeless people. They’re also divided over what the city is doing already.
Candidates for Fresno City Council’s District 2 expressed their views at a forum presented by GV Wire and Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC).

Business attorney Jared Gordon and special needs therapist Oscar Sandoval both assert that some form of shelter should be opened in northwest Fresno. Business owners Lawrence Garcia and Mike Karbassi both say that isn’t necessary.

What About a Shelter?

The city has more money than ever to spend on homelessness, 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. Even more funding is forthcoming from the state budget shepherded by current Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I think we can’t keep doing the same old, same old where we put all of our services for the homeless downtown,” said Gordon, who added that he has talked to homeless people in District 2 who told him they don’t can’t access transportation to downtown services, and they fear their belongings will be stolen if they go.
Gordon it would take “a lot more community input” to determine where a northwest Fresno shelter would be located. He said it could be a secured lot for tents and other amenities, or an empty storefront.
Sandoval said he understands residents’ opposition to a local shelter; he hears the reticence when he campaigns door to door. “The thing is,” Sandoval said, “would have rather have (the homeless) walking around in your neighborhood or in a place that’s close by, where we can actually save on transportations costs?”

What Do the Experts Say?

Easier access to services is crucial, said Sandoval, a former behavioral therapist for children. He supports improving mental-health resources, addiction rehabilitation, and job training. Sandoval said those seeking work opportunities to escape homelessness need access to resources such as a cell phone and email to succeed.
Karbassi said he also supports improved mental health services and other assistance, and would lobby state lawmakers to send more money to the Valley to help the homeless. But he was emphatic about not supporting the creation of a homeless shelter in District 2.
 

Participating in GV Wire’s candidate forum, co-presented by CMAC, were Fresno City Council District 2 hopefuls, from left, Lawrence Garcia, Jared Gordon, Mike Karbassi, and Oscar Sandoval. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

He said he has spoken to leaders of numerous community agencies that deal with the homeless, and no one told him a shelter is needed in northwest Fresno. “I’m not going to tell the experts that they’re wrong,” Karbassi said. “It’s irresponsible to have the added cost of transportation by putting (a shelter) in northwest Fresno. Our residents don’t want that.”

Divided on No-Camping Ordinance

Garcia didn’t directly address the question of a shelter in northwest Fresno, saying he wanted to focus on getting the homeless the help they need, irrespective of location. “We have to address underlining issues, which is the drug addiction, the alcohol addiction, and the mental health status of these people,” he said. Until those problems are addressed, it doesn’t matter where the shelters are, Garcia said.

Forum moderator Randy Reed asked candidates to raise a hand if they supported Fresno’s no-camping ordinance, which was put in place last year to control urban homeless encampments but led to only 15 arrests in 2018. All but Sandoval put their hand up.
“We need to actually give them the means to help themselves and not criminalize poverty, because that’s what the anti-camping ordinance does,” Sandoval said.

A video recap of the GV Wire candidate forum:

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