The Fresno Madera Continuum of Care was founded over 20 years ago to help coordinate homeless services in Fresno and Madera counties. For years, the collaborative focused on serving individuals who had already become homeless. About two years ago, the focus shifted to include “inflow,” or homelessness prevention.
The coalition is now part of Built for Zero, a campaign by the nonprofit Community Solutions to end homelessness, at least for certain populations.
In this work Community Solutions found communities cannot sustainably end homelessness without preventing people from experiencing it in the first place — which requires sectors outside the homelessness response system to take responsibility for stabilizing people most at risk.
In 2018, Fresno and Madera counties became part of a Built for Zero pilot that specifically addressed how veterans in the area go from being stably housed to no longer having housing.
In surveying veterans, program leaders found the vast majority reported that a breakdown of a family or romantic relationship led to their episode of homelessness. 70 percent had a job in a physically demanding or highly transient industry, but age or medical conditions had prevented them from working. Almost half had been incarcerated and cited a lack of employment opportunities for people with criminal records. For female vets, many experienced domestic violence or military sexual trauma.
Many also reported they were unaware of available resources available to help, while others reported that VA-funded substance abuse recovery programs did not address housing needs at the time they were discharged.
As a result, the Fresno team identified 13 veterans who needed housing and held spots for them at an emergency shelter. As they left the substance use disorder program, they had a place to stay and could more easily coordinate permanent housing options. Through the pilot, the team secured permanent housing for about 80 percent of the originally identified veterans.
“Now that we’ve come to diversion, I don’t see us as ever really backing out of diversion,” says Laura Moreno, the local Continuum of Care chair. “If there’s some way we can prevent you from entering the system and prevent the trauma from entering it, then we need to address it.”