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Indybay Feature
Unhoused, Undercounted and Underserved
by Bob McCloskey
This is one article in a series in the Fresno based Community Alliance newspaper. The theme is to Follow the Money. This article will appear in the August 2022 issue of the paper.
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Unhoused, Undercounted and Underserved
Bob McCloskey

On July14th the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care held a press conference to announce the results of the 2022 Point in Time Count of the unhoused population of the City of Fresno, Fresno County and Madera County. Mayor Jerry Dyer and Supervisor Nathan Magsig were there to speak and answer questions. Laura Moreno, Chair of the FMCoC as well as Vice Chair Jody Ketcheside presented the information and data. Two surveys were conducted, the PIT Count and a Housing Inventory Count. The PIT Count was held on February 23, 2022, a particularly cold night. The count was conducted by volunteers to count heads and identify “hot spots” where large concentrations of street family members are. The next day, a second group of volunteers went out to the “hot spots” to conduct detailed interviews. The FMCoC Vice Chair stated that the count “was probably an undercount.” The count is a snapshot of the unhoused population of the city and counties on a single night so extrapolation techniques are then used to estimate numbers and demographic breakdown. Other information used to gather data is from data base records from the Homeless Management Information System, paper surveys from non-HMIS shelters and electronic surveys from volunteers.

The 2022 PIT Count showed that 2,338 people were experiencing unsheltered homelessness, 1,524 were using emergency shelters and 336 were using transitional housing. This adds up to 4,216 people experiencing homelessness in Fresno, Fresno County and Madera County. The vast majority (3,397) are in the City of Fresno. Demographic surveys indicate that 60% are male, 39% female and 1% transgender or gender non conforming. 21% of the unhoused population are families, 25% are chronically homeless, 5% are veterans, 15% are survivors of domestic violence and 19% identified as having a serious mental health issue.

The 2022 Housing Inventory Count showed that 1,795 units of emergency shelter units were operational, 358 units of transitional housing were operational, 389 units of rapid re-housing were operational and 2,559 units of permanent supportive housing were operational. These numbers are more than double the numbers of units from 2021. This reflects the large amount of COVID related emergency funding from the State and Federal governments in the last several years. A true accounting of all of the recent funding and exactly how it was used is necessary and the FMCoC should provide it. A Public Records Act information request will be forthcoming for this funding information in my efforts to follow the money. In spite of the increase in temporary housing capacity, 4,216 people remain unhoused and 2,338 people are unsheltered every night..

I asked several questions of Supervisor Magsig and Mayor Dyer at the press conference. I asked Mr. Magsig about the recent sweep on county property which I reported on last month. I asked him why the sweep was carried out without offering shelter to the encampment residents as required by court decisions. He insisted that shelter had been offered which was not the information that I had according to my interviews of people at the encampment. He then brought forward Sonia De La Rosa from the County Administrative Office to explain that outreach workers from the Kingsview outreach team did go there to do mental health assessments. Some people at the camp told me that 5-10 beds were offered at the Kingsview Manor, a shelter facility which provides mental health services. I then asked her what shelter was offered to those who did not need those services. She said she would get back to me on my question.

I then questioned Mayor Dyer about sweeps in the city of Fresno. He said “there are no more sweeps in Fresno because there are no more encampments of 10 or more people.” Then he went on to say “There is constant outreach to those on the streets offering shelter and services every day”, implying that shelter beds are actually available when they are not, in fact. I also asked him if the city would reconsider the establishment of safe camps as an interim, humane solution to the crisis. He said, “From a safety and health perspective, I am opposed. You end up with things occurring, females being assaulted, drugs being sold, and there is violence. I am not for sanctioned encampments.” I responded to him by saying that people in encampments often support each other, protect each other, and it is usually safer than solitary camping, especially for women. It’s obvious that the Mayor is ignoring successful safe camp results in other cities. He went on to say that the city intends to purchase more motels for shelter use, build more low income housing and establish tiny home villages to address the crisis. These words ring hollow when you witness the daily suffering on the streets, witness the inhumane sweeps and hear the stories the street families tell of their encounters with Fresno PD. The city, county and FMCoC ignore the everyday reality and humanity of street family members, present a positive image of “all they are doing for the homeless” and are still failing to provide adequate services to those in shelters and those who are unsheltered. They are failing to provide permanent, long term solutions like Housing First, job training and assistance with job placement.

A question arose from a member of the press regarding the recent implementation of a mobile shower unit by the city of Fresno. For many years, street family members, advocates and members of the Fresno community that have a heart have lobbied, pleaded, and pushed for the city and county to provide some human dignity and meet the basic human needs of people living on the brutal, hot streets of Fresno. Instead, elected leaders have complained about human feces and the smell of urine on the streets and sidewalks without providing any restrooms. They have pontificated endlessly about the “homeless problem” and pandered to residents and business owners by enforcing endless encampment sweeps, often times violating the Martin vs. Boise court decision which requires that shelter is offered to people before a sweep can occur on public property. Elected leaders complain about the trash and filth, provide no solutions and cruelly punished those are unfortunate enough to be unhoused. Finally, after continued lobbying, the city is making a meager attempt to provide some sanitation services by sending one mobile shower unit around the city on a rotating basis.

There are 2,338 people (an undercount) in the City of Fresno, City of Madera and County of Fresno who are unsheltered and have no access to water and sanitation. The vast majority are in the city and one mobile shower/restroom is insufficient and a very small step in the right direction. Restrooms and water access should be provided throughout the city and county in sufficient numbers. Until more housing becomes available, temporary safe camps with basic services should be established. In April, 2020, the Fresno City Council approved the funding and purchase of a mobile restroom and shower unit meant to serve the unhoused community. The funding was provided by Federal CARES Act dollars. The city finally rolled out the showers on July 6th. The mobile unit has four bathrooms and is equipped with showers, toilets and sinks. It hooks up to a city water connection and runs off a generator. Councilman Miguel Arias said, “Showers and restrooms are the number one request from the homeless for decades,” Arias also said that he hopes the restrooms will also relieve the need “to clean up human feces and urine from public buildings and from small business storefronts”, a major complaint for the business community. It stretches credibility to think that one rotating mobile restroom unit will have a major impact on reducing the amount of human excrement on the streets of Fresno. The city only has one mobile unit. A second unit is scheduled to arrive by March 2023. The city is contracting with Grace Bound Inc. to operate the mobile shower unit in its pilot period, and then the city will issue a request for proposals to operate the units in the future costing $4,000 a month. Each unit cost $130,000 to purchase. The city is reporting that the roll out has been successful and a city official said “Everybody’s been respectful and clean, and it’s running pretty smooth, so we’re off to a good start.” Several council members have begun identifying locations in which the unit can be parked, he added. For now, the plan will be to rotate the location on a weekly basis. Councilman Arias said he hopes that in the future, the city will be able to purchase additional mobile restroom units and create a schedule so people know when and where they can access them. He said that the showers can be stationed wherever there is a hookup to the main waterline, an access point to the city’s sewer line and an open area for the generator, describing the mobile bathrooms as a “citywide solution” to a “citywide crisis”. He also said “this is a basic human need we’re finally meeting, this should have happened 20 years ago, but it’s here now, and we’re gonna make the most of it.” For now, the showers will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., rotating weekly on a location schedule to be determined. We are lobbying for more units to be purchased and making suggestions for locations and hours of operation. It’s a small step that took much effort from advocates to achieve. Although progress is being made the struggle continues for the basic human right to housing in the Fresno area and we will persevere.

Bob McCloskey, Advocate for the Unhoused
§Follow the Money
by Bob McCloskey
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Fresno County sheriffs wasting public dollars at a recent encampment sweep. photo by Bob McCLoskey
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