In a late afternoon news conference Wednesday, Fresno city and county officials stood shoulder to shoulder to announce a combined effort to provide service to homeless populations vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We recognize the fact that our homeless are the most vulnerable population that we have here in Fresno County,” said Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig. Despite the homeless still having to volunteer for testing, the city and county want to provide resources to those that agree to be tested and show symptoms of COVID-19.
Room Vouchers and Hand Washing Stations
The city and county are working together with newly acquired vouchers for hotel and motel rooms that can be used to house homeless that are identified as needing quarantine.
Sonia de la Rosa, principal administrative analyst for Fresno County said, “The reason we’re using hotel rooms is because that will give us an opportunity to isolate those folks that are pending test results or have been identified as COVID positive but do not require hospitalization.”
As far as protection for the hotel workers and staff, the county says there will be protections in place for them as well as janitorial services to ensure the facility stays clean.
“We’ve seen an enormous amount of hotel and motel owners across the city volunteer their facilities,” said Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias.
It has not yet been determined which facilities will be used. The city and county say the locations will be determined by proximity to services that may be needed to address the medical needs they encounter. Ideally that would be a location that opens up to a parking lot close to a breezeway in the event an infected patient needs to be moved elsewhere they’ll be able to do so without infecting anyone else.
County officials are initially looking at getting anywhere from 20 to 30 beds, but with the likelihood they’ll need more.
30 hand washing station have already been spread across the city and county, with plans to place many more of them in the coming days to parks. Hand washing stations have already been placed in the cities of Reedley and Sanger, with plans to deploy more out to Mendota and Firebaugh.
State Providing $2 Million in Emergency Funding
The efforts are being paid for through $2 million in emergency funding provided by the state to help local communities address to the coronavirus pandemic. The city received $1 million, while the county and the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care each received $500,000.
The three agencies are pooling their resources and collaborating on their response, said H. Spees, the director of strategic initiatives for the city of Fresno.
Fresno County’s behavioral health director Dawan Utecht will be in charge of allocating the money.
County Approves Contract for More Shelter Beds
Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a $2.1 million contract with RH Community Builders to provide 265 new emergency shelter beds for up to six months. The beds will be used for homeless individuals who need to isolate due to exposure to COVID-19. The organization operates several existing shelters in the city.
Dez Martinez, founder of the homeless advocacy non-profit “We Are Not Invisible” believes there are better ways to spend the money. “”I feel that our homeless in Fresno are going to remain invisible because other cities have already housed the homeless into motels and have taken immediate action,” she said.
“I believe there are other alternatives regarding the state money that was spent and could have been spent more wisely. In 90 days RH Community Builders’ contract is up.”