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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Central Valley | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services
How Many Homeless Shelter Beds are there in Fresno ... and why it matters
The City of Fresno recently passed a Homeless No Camping ordinance. You can read about one action in resistance to that law here. This article explores the issue of shelter beds in Fresno. Photo below: This was a City of Fresno worker destroying a structure in a homeless encampment in 2011. Homeless advocates believe that instead of destroying homeless people’s modest homes, the City of Fresno should be helping them.
Proponents of the recently passed No Camping ordinance in Fresno claim that homeless people who are sleeping on public and private property are doing so by choice. They say that if they wanted to get off the streets, there are plenty of places for them to go. They suggest homeless people should go to the Fresno Rescue Mission or the Poverello House.
Homeless advocates say there are too few shelter beds and that the ordinance essentially criminalizes poverty. They claim that there are not enough homeless shelter beds for the number of homeless people on the streets of Fresno.
This matters because a lack of shelter space would make it impossible for all of the homeless people in Fresno to comply with the law and avoid arrest, even if they wanted to do so. And, there have been some legal rulings that say it is unconstitutional to arrest a homeless person for sleeping at night if the option of staying at a shelter is not available.
To answer the question about how many shelter beds there are for the homeless in Fresno I did some research, looking at public documents, getting numbers directly from social service providers and a Fresno City Council member who directed his staff to find an answer to this question.
Depending on who you ask and how you define a shelter bed for the homeless, the number is between 180 and 260. Our City Council member gave me the 180 number and the more or less official 2016 City and County of Fresno 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness report put the number at 260. One reason for the different numbers could be that the Tool Sheds at the Poverello House are not technically suitable for human habitation, so they may be counted by some sources but not others. If you were to house a family member in a tool shed, like the ones used at the Poverello House, you could be arrested for child endangerment or elder abuse.
The three charts that accompany this article are from the updated 2016 10-Year Plan report, that is used by the city, social service providers and others to document the status of homelessness in this community. This document, which is available online at the City of Fresno website, puts the total number of Chronically Homeless people in Fresno at 1,622. While reasonable people will disagree about the accuracy of this number, it is the official number used by representatives of the City of Fresno and many groups working on the homeless issue.
Table three from the report shows us that the number of homeless shelter beds has gone from 678 in 2009 to 260 in 2016. We have 416 fewer beds than we did 7 years ago! If you subtract 260 from 1,622 you get 1,362. That is the number of homeless people who will be in Fresno tonight and could not get off the street, even if they wanted to, because of the lack of beds. Fresno is 1,362 beds short of having enough shelter beds for everyone who is homeless.
It should also be noted that most Fresno shelters have significant barriers to getting a bed for a night. Some are for men only, some for women only, one is only for women who are in a domestic violence situation and another is only for youth 13-17.
Even if you go with the higher number of shelter beds (260) and what I believe to be a low number of the people who are homeless in Fresno, you are still 1,362 beds away from providing a bed for every homeless person tonight.
What would happen if every homeless person in Fresno decided they did not want to risk arrest for sleeping on public or private property and asked for a bed at a homeless shelter in Fresno? At least 1,362 of them would be left out in the cold and risk arrest for the crime of being too poor to rent a house, apartment or hotel room.
The No Camping Ordinance must be repealed and replaced with a policy that gives homeless people a safe and legal place to live. The City and County of Fresno have vacant land and buildings available and could implement this new policy by the end of the day tomorrow. It would cost less than what is being done today, keep our community cleaner (assuming portable toilets, trash bins and drinking water was provided), and dramatically improve the lives of homeless people.
The next step is providing homeless people with affordable housing and whatever social services they need to make it possible for them to live a more productive and happy life. With the political will of our elected officials to allocate the needed resources and community support, we can improve the lives of homeless people and ultimately end homelessness. Another world is possible.
Mike Rhodes is the author of Dispatches from the War Zone, homelessness in Fresno 2002 - 2015. You can contact him at mikerhodes [at] comcast.net . For more information, go to http://www.mikerhodes.us .
This man is sleeping on the cement next to the Post Office at Griffith and Blackstone in Fresno. Our brothers and sisters who are homeless deserve a safe and legal place to sleep that has drinking water, trash bins and toilets. We can do better than this, right?
Table 1, shows the number of homeless people in Fresno to be 1,622. This count was done in the January 2016 Point in Time count. While this count does not include significant segments of the homeless population (for example, the Fresno Unified School District has identified over 3,000 homeless children in their schools), it is the official count used by the City of Fresno.
Table 2 shows the official number of homeless people in Fresno to be 1,622, broken down between veterans and non-veterans. This information is available on the City of Fresno website and is from the 2016 City and County of Fresno 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness report.
Table 3 shows the total number of shelter beds for the homeless to be 260.
The statistics in the Point in Time Count show that homelessness is up in Fresno for the third year in a row. This is from the January 2017 Point in Time count:http://www.yourcentralvalley.com/news/fresno-homeless-numbers-on-the-rise/790546150
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There are 5,088 homeless children in Fresno County, according to the most recent data.