In an effort to stem Fresno’s homelessness crisis, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer unveiled a new initiative Tuesday afternoon that, if successful, should please frustrated citizens and business owners while helping those on the streets get help.
The announcement comes as the city deals with increasing numbers of homeless people amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Fresno’s most recent estimate of the homeless population is 4,200. And, homeless numbers continue to swell despite the efforts of City Hall, nonprofits, the state, and the federal government.
The new initiative is a homeless assistance response team (HART).
“Today we are launching Project HART in the city of Fresno, as well as the exclusive use of our 3-1-1 system to report anything to do with the homeless,” said Dyer. “We want to roll out this plan today, and the action that’s going with it.”
The press briefing took place at East Harvey and North Minnewawa avenues, where not too long ago, homeless encampments surrounded the southeast neighborhood.
Call 3-1-1 for All Homelessness Issues
Moving forward, the way that the city responds to calls involving homelessness will change for the better, says Dyer.
While plans for this program have been in place for some time, hiring staff and supply chain issues have delayed its implementation until now.
“Today we have the equipment, we have the people, we have the plan, we have the funding,” said Dyer.
By calling 3-1-1, Fresno residents can report anyone who may be homeless, in danger, or in need of immediate assistance.
Watch: Mayor Jerry Dyer Announces Homelessness Initiative
Previously, anyone calling about a homeless situation would use 9-1-1. However, it could take hours before police officers responded.
Now, HART is charged with answering the calls and responding to the scene.
The group is composed of 18 outreach workers from the Poverello House, 10 full-time workers assigned to city code enforcement, and a police task force of six veteran officers under the direction of Sgt. Steven Jaquez.
Which of the three groups responds will come down to what’s going on.
“There’s going to be times when only the HART outreach team responds without the police, without code,” Dyer said. “There’s going to be times when the police department responds, oftentimes utilizing the outreach workers to assist and perhaps code. And, there’s going to be times when our code enforcement folks go out alone to address a particular issue.”
Dyer Grateful For Community, Council Help
Dyer says outreach workers have been very effective. He also said that he is grateful to work in partnership with organizations such as the Poverello House, The Mission, Kings View, and various state agencies such as Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol to help shelter homeless people.
“Thanks to Homekey dollars from the state of California, and the ongoing partnership that we had and the support, quite frankly from our city council who is united in our efforts on Project Offramp.” said Dyer.
Homekey is a partnership with the state to purchase and rehabilitate hotels and motels and convert them into housing for people experiencing homelessness. In addition, the purchases are helping clean up Fresno’s infamous, vice-ridden Motel Drive. Offramp houses people who had been living along the city’s major highways.
In the past year, the city has relocated over 600 homeless people who were living on streets and freeways into motels that were converted into emergency shelters.
“We had 80% success rate this last year of people who were offered services and shelter who took advantage of that. Of those, 50% were going to the motels and are successfully transitioning into other types of permanent housing or being transitioned back with family,” said Dyer.
Chavez: ‘You’re Going to See Homelessness Reduced’
City council president Nelson Esparza and councilman Luis Chavez are throwing their full support behind HART.
“The HART team is now just one more tool that the city has at its disposal to address homelessness and create safer neighborhoods throughout the entire city.” — Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza
“It’s no secret that homelessness has become one of the most challenging issues for big cities in California, and Fresno has been no exception,” said Esparza. “The HART team is now just one more tool that the city has at its disposal to address homelessness and create safer neighborhoods throughout the entire city.”
Chavez says the HART group will use a humanitarian and compassionate approach to helping unhoused individuals.
“I can tell you that as a kid that grew up here in southeast Fresno, our landscape has definitely changed. We’ve now normalized the size and the sites of encampments in our community, and we can’t do that any longer,” said Chavez.
“I think we really are at a crossroads today where we’ve received over $900 million in the last three years from the federal government and from the state to address a lot of our challenges and that’s really what we’re going to be doing these next couple of months. You’re going to see homelessness reduced.”
Chavez said the council and the mayor are currently working on a comprehensive housing plan that will include building tiny homes, more shelters and purchasing more hotels, and perhaps may even purchase homes to help provide affordable housing to Fresno residents through funding from the American Rescue Plan.