A “crib sheet” is required to keep track of all the local governmental and nonprofit entities working to resolve the homeless issue, the Fresno County grand jury says in findings released in its 2020 annual report.
“As a result, duplicative and sometimes overlapping roles, fuzzy lines of authority, and a myriad of often-competing initiatives make it difficult to measure the effectiveness of the actions initiated to address homelessness in Fresno County,” the local watchdog panel said.
However, some of the officials in charge of homeless programs say solutions are not as easy as just dictating, through one central hub, how initiatives are administered.
“The report makes surgical recommendations to how we can improve homeless service delivery which I agree with.”–H. Spees, director of strategic initiatives for mayor’s office
“I don’t think that it (coordination) should lie in one place, and that’s my opinion” says Laura Moreno, program manager with the county Department of Social Services. Moreno also serves as the chair of the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care, which is intended to facilitate homeless strategies. “I think that there needs to be a point person for the lead entities.”
As for those lead entities, Moreno says there are over 40 of them. She says each agency has to follow their own set of rules based on how they’re receiving their funding, which is where the real challenge lies.
No Ultimate Accountability
The grand jury report says the local homelessness challenge is not being met with a clear strategic plan of coordination between the city of Fresno, Fresno County, other government agencies, and nonprofit partners. Moreover, the response is complicated by varied requirements of federal, state, and private funding sources.
It became clear to the jurors that there is no single organization that has ultimate accountability for oversight of the various programs and services being provided in Fresno County. This lack of coordinated effort has contributed to the problem rather than support successful outcomes, the report says.
Moreno pushes back on this part of the report.
“So there were some things in the report that were not quite accurate,” says Moreno. “But I think that is about the complexity of the funds and how they’re actually allocated and what the responsibility is between the jurisdictions, between the county of Fresno and the city of Fresno.”
“So there were some things in the report that were not quite accurate.”–Laura Moreno, Fresno County social services program manager
The grand jury noted that in an attempt to better coordinate and improve effectiveness in addressing homelessness, the city of Fresno and the Fresno Housing Authority contracted with Barbara Poppe and Associates to advise on “proven practices that have been shown to reduce homelessness in other communities.”
The recommended actions included a plan for the city and county of Fresno to develop a new collective impact initiative to oversee the many programs that provide services to the homeless. As a result, Street2Home was adopted by both jurisdictions.
Additionally, in June 2019, the county Board of Supervisors adopted 14 priorities to comprehensively address the homelessness issue. These priorities were the result of staff meetings with the county’s incorporated cities.
The grand jury says although funding is available, three positions recommended in the Street2Home report for the “backbone organization” remain unfilled. The recommendation is those positions be filled by December 31.
But, H. Spees, the director of strategic initiatives for Mayor Lee Brand doesn’t believe it’s likely those spots will be filled by the end of the year.
“I don’t think it’ll be accomplished because there are other things that are that are preoccupying our time,” says Spees. He believes those jobs will be filled in 2021.
The big projects consuming a majority of his work, he says, include the recent acquisitions of hotels using the state’s Project Homekey funding. Several motels on Parkway Drive and the former Smuggler’s Inn on Blackstone Ave. are among the properties that will be used to house homeless individuals and provide long-term affordable housing options.
“It is a breakthrough,” Spees says referring to the acquisitions. “It was a brilliant thought that we would take the CARES fund dollars which run out – we have to have those spent by the end of December.”
Spees says getting more affordable housing into the local supply is key to helping get people off the streets. The new housing options will provide 521 units of new places for people to live. “That’s a big deal,” he says.
Moreno adds, “That definitely is going to be a game changer, even for the Parkway area in general.”
Lively Discussion at Fresno City Council
“I think there’s value in seeing the report and presenting it to the council.”–Fresno Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria
At the Fresno City Council’s Thursday meeting, Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria pressed Spees on the grand jury findings.
“I think there’s value in seeing the report and presenting it to the council,” said Soria. She wanted to know more about the report because members are being asked to extend a contract with Kings View Community Services to provide behavioral health services to the community. “If we’re approving an agreement and extending it, what is it in that (grand jury) report that is saying that we can do better when it comes to outreach, education, and connecting people to services that we can improve so that as I’m agreeing to extend a 5 year extension (for Kings View), that we are being thoughtful in asking these providers to think about those recommendation to improve the way we service folks experiencing homelessness.”
Spees says grand jury’s interviews did not extend past March of this year due to the pandemic, so that needs to be taken into consideration when reading it. “They were really unable to look at the whole issue and the seamless response during COVID-19 from all our responders,” said Spees. “The report makes surgical recommendations to how we can improve homeless service delivery which I agree with.”
Spees agreed to give a presentation to the City Council, going over the grand jury findings, and how to best accomplish the recommendations in the report.
The City Council voted to approve the Kings View services contract through June 30, 2021.
City Council President Miguel Arias says the Street2Home committee last met before the COVID-19 pandemic. “If I had to give us a score, it’s going to be a C minus,” said Arias. He says even with all the efforts that have been made, “It’s still not enough.”
Spees tells GV Wire℠ the efforts he’s seen deserve at least a B. He bases this on the fact that community organizations have been able to get 500 people into individual rooms during the COVID-19 crisis, rather than congregate settings. He also credited individuals within the organizations for putting themselves at risk to their own health to get homeless individuals into housing during a pandemic without any major outbreaks of the virus.
READ: Full Grand Jury Report