It’s rare to get politicians to agree on anything.

But, in Fresno County, there’s universal agreement that homelessness is the No. 1 issue.


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Portrait of GV Wire News Director Bill McEwen

Bill McEwen

Opinion

More importantly, that agreement has inspired the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and the Fresno City Council to bless the creation of nonprofit aligning homelessness efforts so they do the most good.

All Oars in the Same Direction

That’s good news for people living on the streets, businesses absorbing the costs and headaches created by homeless people, and residents weary and wary of aggressive panhandlers.

As Fresno County’s top administrator, Jean Rousseau, explained it Tuesday the new Street2Home Fresno County board also will help local agencies tap into federal dollars beyond those aimed at the chronically homeless. Two segments of the homeless population that would benefit from better funding: victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.

And, as H Spees told the Fresno City Council on Thursday morning, the expectation is that Street2Home will earn the confidence of the community and inspire more private donations.

“This will allow us to address homelessness in a way that is smart and have the results reported back,” said Spees, who is Mayor Lee Brand’s chief advisor on homelessness. “This connects us in a way that has the biggest bang for the buck.”

Shared 14-Point Plan on Homelessness

So there’s no misunderstanding: Street2Home won’t be the recipient of local, state, and federal funding. Its foundation is a 14-point plan agreed to by the city, county, Fresno-Madera Continuum of Care, and Fresno Housing Authority. Street2Home’s charge is to coordinate planning, recommend strategies, and track the results.

If an agency is wasting dollars on things that don’t work, taxpayers should know that. And the agency should change tactics.

The reality is, the city and county have been accelerating their efforts to get people off the street by more accurately diagnosing why they are homeless and providing proper assistance.

It could be that a family can afford rent but doesn’t have the money for the deposit. Or the loss of a job. Or long-term substance abuse and mental health issues. As was said by Spees and many of the council members Thursday, homelessness is complex; there are no simple solutions.

Fresno Faring Better Than Other West Coast Cities

While the city’s latest homeless count indicated a 16% increase over 2018 to 1,416 people, Fresno is faring better than most large West Coast cities. In fact, the city and county had reduced homelessness — especially among veterans — before the numbers began rising two years ago. Street2Home hopes to turn the tide again with an added emphasis on homeless prevention.

“This will allow us to address homelessness in a way that is smart and have the results reported back. This connects us in a way that has the biggest bang for the buck.”H Spees, director of strategic initiatives for Fresno Mayor Lee Brand

Last month. HUD Pacific Regional Administrator Chris Patterson visited shelters and transitional housing for the homeless in Fresno. One of his stops was at the 31-bed Turning Point transition housing facility at G and Belgravia streets.

“This is exactly what we want to see,” said Patterson, specifically citing the fact that the residents there were treated with dignity. Patterson also gave high marks to city and county officials for how they had teamed up to address the challenges.

In regard to Street2Home, the council approved it 7-0. The county’s blessing came 4-1, with Steve Brandau opposed.

Some State Policies Actually Add to Homelessness Problem

While the state is increasing funding to cities to reduce homelessness, its policies continue to add to the problem.

In California, the hurdles to building affordable housing are many. In addition, voter-approved jail sentencing reforms have produced a catch-and-release reality that provides little motivation for drug addicts to seek treatment. They live on the streets because they can. Meanwhile, they steal everything in sight to support their habits.

Street2Home won’t end homelessness, but it’s a big step toward doing the best that we can.

Soria: We Need More Federal Dollars

2 Responses

  1. Patience Milrod

    Bill—great piece—and I’m glad to see this is happening. Also maybe worth exploring—why is the County sitting on tens of millions of treatmt dollars? (Hint: it seems the MediCal rules about who gets treatment are pretty bizarre—and this is a major reason homeless often don’t qualify, as desperately as they need it!) Happy to talk more.

    Reply

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