Mayoral candidate Jerry Dyer and a trio of city councilmembers agree on two things about the homelessness issue in Fresno — it is a crisis and the top issue in the March 3 election.
But, in a news conference on Wednesday, the councilmembers criticized Dyer’s plan for navigation centers — essentially a singular location with beds and services.
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Esmeralda Soria, Miguel Arias, and Nelson Esparza say such centers are too large and should not be placed in downtown Fresno, where many homeless services are concentrated. They suggested smaller homeless centers throughout the city instead.
In turn, Dyer held his own news conference afterward.
“What have they done? I will answer it for you. Nothing,” said Dyer, who dismissed the councilmembers’ criticism as a political stunt.
Downtown Shelters: Enough is Enough
Arias said the location in the downtown/Chinatown area is where the city opened five new shelters in the last year. That is on top of homeless service providers such as the Poverello House and Fresno Rescue Mission.
“Our constituents are done being dumped on. Enough is enough. It is time for the rest of Fresno to do their part,” said Arias, who represents the area on the council.
Dyer, the former police chief, challenged Arias’ analysis of the situation. Dyer said that placing a navigation center near existing service locations makes perfect sense.
“It seems reasonable,” Dyer said. “All we are asking is we have an ability to house individuals, to centrally locate services so they can be productive citizens again … is that too much to ask for us as a city?”
Arias cast doubts that a navigation center, like those used in San Diego, would be effective. He vowed that the city council would not support such a plan, assuming Dyer wins the election.
Arias: Put Homeless Services in Dyer’s Neighborhood
Arias, who had remained neutral in the mayoral race, tipped his hand by organizing the news conference. He criticized Dyer’s plan — featured in a TV campaign ad — and gave alternatives for where shelters should go.
“We have been more than generous in our neighborhoods, especially given the lack of shelters up north. We have been more generous than the mega-churches in north Fresno that operate in sprawling acres in excess land,” Arais said. “If his proposal had merit, he should propose it in his neighborhood in Copper River.”
Later in the day, Dyer responded. He said the industrial nature of G Street, where Poverello House and Fresno Rescue Mission are located, is a better location.
“If someone wants to show me in this city other areas that are similar in nature in this, I’d be more to be happy to have those conversations,” Dyer said.
As to Arias’s church and neighborhood idea, Dyer said:
“We’re not trying to bring the problem to them. We’re trying to take the problem out of their neighborhoods. Because, currently, it already exists.”
Dyer said, ideally, the navigation centers would be between 50 and 100 beds.
Gerry Bill, who operates the Dakota EcoGarden shelter, said that 40 would be the maximum amount of beds without “multiple problems.”
Dyer acknowledged that when centers get too large, they lead to problems.
Life on Santa Clara Street
“If they are really needy, a walk doesn’t hurt. If there is another shelter, I would go and take a look at it.” — Mike, Santa Clara Street resident
During the news conferences, Arias and Dyer compared the Santa Clara Street area downtown to “third world” countries.
The blocks between G and E streets are where the homeless have traditionally congregated. On this afternoon, volunteers from The Curry Pizza Company helped feed the residents with its Indian-style pizza.
Curry’s owner, Virender Malhi, said it doesn’t matter where in the city a shelter goes.
“No one deserves to be on the streets like this,” Malhi said.
Meanwhile, a homeless woman, who was helping serve the food, engaged in a street fight with another man.
Mike, a Santa Clara Street resident, says unemployment led him to the streets.
“They can go however far you have the shelter. Because, if they are really needy, a walk doesn’t hurt. If there is another shelter, I would go and take a look at it,” Mike said.
Other Mayoral Candidates’ Ideas
The March 3 election has seven candidates on the ballot to replace Lee Brand, who opted not to run for reelection.
Andrew Janz, a Fresno County prosecutor, criticized Dyer’s plan.
“This is yet another example of Jerry’s lack of political experience. Being mayor of this city is not like running the police department where everyone follows orders. Creating consensus through coalition building is the only way we’re going to get things done,” Janz told GV Wire.
“This is why Governor Newsom, Fresno community leaders, and I are backing the DRIVE Initiative as our solution to addressing poverty and homelessness. Jerry’s mega tent city reminds many voters of Trump’s immigration detention centers and does nothing to address how and why people become homeless in the first place.”
Nickolas Wildstar, a community activist, referred GV Wire to his mayoral campaign website for his homelessness plan:
“Use tiny houses in order to shelter those in need and help clean up our communities. Allow individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to operate efficiently to help address the homelessness problem faced by the people of Fresno. Create a designated mental health response team to aid those having a mental crisis,” Wildstar says on his website.