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Opinion: We Must Remain United to Really End Fresno Homelessness

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The nationwide homeless crisis has existed in Fresno County for many years and only worsened throughout the pandemic. To effectively address homelessness communitywide, both in the metropolitan and rural communities, partnerships between local governments and community-based organizations must continue. Without these partnerships, the political will that galvanized the COVID-19 response and directed our homeless community into housing and support services will fizzle.

Nathan Magsig Thumbnail - GV Wire

Nathan Magsig, Fresno County Supervisor, District 5

Opinion

It was this collaboration and funding alignment that brought over 200 households (or over 400 individuals) into housing within weeks during the pandemic, many for the first time, yet there is much more to be done.

Homelessness in Fresno County Up Until 2018

Prior to 2018, homelessness in our community was being managed with resources provided through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HUD Continuum of Care Program provides funding for efforts by nonprofit providers and state and local agencies to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families. Annually, the Fresno Madera (Continuum of Care) receives about $10 million to maintain and add limited permanent and transitional housing, supportive services, and homelessness prevention. In addition to that funding, the County of Fresno and City of Fresno receive limited direct funding for homeless-related matters.

In 2018, the State, through the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), provided a one-time allocation of $12.6 million to the City of Fresno ($3.1M) and Continuum of Care ($9.5M) to be expended by June 30, 2021. This funding established 90-day housing and navigation services in the metropolitan area of the County of Fresno. This marked the first time the region received funding to address homelessness outside of the HUD allocation.

Community Wide Homelessness Priorities

In 2019, the County of Fresno spearheaded the adoption of community wide homelessness priorities. The priorities include outreach teams engaging and offering services to individuals regardless of their location and jurisdictional area (city, county, state, or special district). The services offered include transportation, food, housing, and enrollment in health and public assistance. Other priorities included gathering information about the unique needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in our community.

In 2019, the State once again provided the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) Grant Program as a one-time regional allocation of $11.9 million to the City of Fresno ($6.2M), Continuum of Care ($3M), County of Fresno ($2.3M) and County of Madera ($0.4M), all of which combined to sustain the HEAP housing and navigation services beyond June 2021. The same was done in 2020, when the State, through HHAP Round Two, allocated $5.5 million to the City of Fresno ($2.9M), Continuum of Care ($1.4M), County of Fresno ($1M) and County of Madera ($0.2M). The services provided with these funds will end in 2024.

Multi-Pronged Efforts Address Homelessness Amid the Pandemic

During the pandemic, a diverse, regional, and multi-pronged team (County of Fresno departments, all hospitals and federally qualified health clinics, and all shelter and service providers) brought single individuals and families into housing and expanded the services to our homeless population, using a one- time influx of emergency state and federal funding. The County’s departmental services were the springboard to this team.

Through the Departments of Behavioral Health, Public Health and Social Services, the County of Fresno has provided screening for communicable diseases, short-term and/or emergency shelter housing, rental assistance, and support to keep individuals housed with case management. To succeed, any program implemented to help our homeless population must be done in collaboration with these departments.

Transitioning to Long-Term Housing Options

Recently, the City of Fresno, along with Caltrans and local outreach teams, relocated over 300 individuals from dangerous embankments to newly acquired and/or recently vacated emergency beds. However, these individuals entered an already impacted system of services within the County and are now pending placement into permanent housing options. Individuals that agreed to housing are now being assessed, provided support, and matched to housing; however, without more options, individuals will be unable to transition from the emergency beds.

The regional partnership (County of Fresno, Fresno Madera Continuum of Care, cities and service providers) is exploring various projects that will provide longer-term housing options, including tiny homes, independent living, and repurposing the State-deployed travel trailers, to name a few. To effectively address homelessness communitywide, partnerships between local governments and community-based organizations must continue so that with aligned strategies, we will bring in many more households and prevent others from entering homelessness—one agency cannot do this alone.

About the Author 

Fresno County Supervisor Nathan has a Master of Science degree in Criminology and a Master of Business Administration degree from California State University Fresno. In addition to his academic achievements, Nathan is a licensed general contractor, a licensed lead inspector, energy management and building performance specialist. Over the last 20 years, He has worked as a youth pastor, legislative staff member for the California Assembly, executive director of a non-profit affordable housing developer, energy director and RME for Fresno EOC. He served on the Clovis City Council for 16 years and had the pleasure to twice represent his constituents as mayor.