If there’s a “ground zero” for the immediate needs for the homeless in Fresno. It’s in downtown Fresno off of G Street.
On one side of G Street is the Poverello House. On the other side is the Fresno Rescue Mission. For many, this street is a crossroad – a turning point for getting off the streets, and it’s free.
On the narrow strip of road, lives are being transformed every day.
When you think of the homeless, images like disheveled hair, dirty clothes, a distant void look, and an aimless lost shuffle probably come to mind.
But at some point, some of these homeless will say to themselves, “‘I’m tired of living on the street.’ Once they say that, then we can start to help them,” said Don Eskes, the CEO of Fresno Rescue Mission.
In the courtyard at the Fresno Rescue Mission, former homeless men are finding hope, discipline, faith, and purpose.
“The first step is to walk in the door and want to change,” Eskes said. “We cannot change anyone.”
Eskes says building a relationship with these men is key.
“It’s matter of coming along side and helping those individuals and those folks that want to change,” Eskes said.
And that change includes free room and board, but everyone pitches in – no matter how menial the task.
It keeps them locked in a cycle of dependence instead of independence.
“I love it. I do the dishes and do whatever. Right now getting ready to set up for the guests,” said Allen Brown, who works at Fresno Rescue Mission.
Work here restores a sense of purpose and pride that’s sometimes lost on the streets.
Meanwhile, just up the road on G Street, the line forms for lunch at the Poverello House.
Between the Fresno Rescue Mission and the Poverello House, they’ll serve tens of thousands of free meals every week.
The need for food is insatiable. Commercial grade freezers are stocked with food, and commercial grade kitchens never seem to rest.
Along with the free food, the homeless get a new name. They’re all called clients. It’s a sign of respect – a first step to restoring lost dignity.
Here clients are fed and offered housing – albeit in temporary sheds.
Avila said, “We provide the cots, blankets, and pillows for them.”
Up the street at the Mission – transitional, temporary housing is also available.
Eskes said, “We have 96 beds upstairs, and it’s like being in the military.”
The bunk beds are spartan – more a military barrack than a home.
It’s simple and transformative.
“It’s been the best decision in my life,” said Jose Gomez, a former homeless person.
For Gomez, who used to live on the streets, this rustic setting is his second chance.
“Before here, it was ugly for me. I would be out there in my addiction. Running the streets; running amok. And lost full contact with myself as a person,” Gomez said.
But shaking addictions and demons takes more than room and board.
“The need to change has to be stronger than the addition,” Eskes said.
For some it takes faith.
“It’s a community issue, and we all have to work together to address the issue.”
Eskes said, “We have chapel services here every night.”
Sandoval said, “Jesus in my life is what helped me break that cycle.”
Eskes added, “We have services – have signing groups that come in.”
At the Fresno Rescue Mission, they also offer classes on everything from how to fill out job application, to how to dress – how to find a job.
This is the “real change” that the Real Change Fresno folks are talking about.
Want to help end homelessness? Donate here – not on the street.
Eskes said, “When we give someone $1 or $5 on the street corner, we’re really not helping them.”
Sometimes the real change happens in a courtyard, not a street corner.
“It’s a community issue, and we all have to work together to address the issue,” Eskes said.
In one of the hallways at the Poverello House, you can see pictures of an earlier generation of homeless.
They’re all gone now. Some got help, and unfortunately some died homeless.
The whole point of Real Change Fresno – and Eyewitness News’ report – is to help save this present generation of homeless now while there’s still time.
Bernard said, “Don’t knock them down; even though they’re on the street, they still good people.”
They’re faces from the past, but their stories and struggles still ring true today.
Flores said, “Surviving out here it’s hard.”
They once had families.
Bernard said, “These are good people.”
But their struggles, voices and vices echo into a new generation of homeless.
Regardless of the generation, the lessons learned from the plight of the homeless are timeless.
No. 1: Curbside giving won’t end homelessness.
“So giving someone your spare change keeps them in that cycle and keeps them dependent,” Scott said. “It’s hard to tell people when you see someone in need ‘don’t give, – that’s so hard.”
No. 2: Give, but give differently.
“Let’s not just give on the street corner, but let’s give to those organizations. Let’s get involved, and make some real change,” Avakian said. “Fresno has some amazing organizations already in place.”
“Not giving them a hand out but, giving them a hand up.”No. 3: Engage – talk to a homeless person.
“‘You look like you can use some help. Can I get you plugged into some help?’” Scott said.
No. 4: Call 211; it’s the United Way hotline.
They’ll show up and help get a homeless person if they want it.
“Not giving them a hand out but, giving them a hand up,” Coleman said.
No. 5: Spread the word. Think differently; act differently.
“The education piece is huge,” Coleman said. “That’s what the biggest piece is in our project. It’s educating and then empowering them as to what they can do instead of giving money.”
So is real change possible? Yes.
Remember Kirby? After being homeless for years, he’s clean sober and helping to get others off the streets. He wants to be a youth pastor one day.
And after being homeless for four years, Sandoval is now clean and sober, too, and helping other families.
Gomez is clean sober, too, and looking for permanent housing. After being homeless for years, Bernard is finally off the streets.
“If I can do it they can do it,” she said.
Flores hopes to be next.
“I’m finally going to get housing after four years. I plan to go back to school,” Flores said.
“But if I change one person’s life, I’ve done my job”
And Gonzales hopes she, too, will soon find permanent housing.
Is change like this easy? No. Is is possible? Yes.
But some might ask, “Won’t Fresno always have some homeless?” The answer is yes.
“That’s true. It’s a huge systemic issue. But if I change one person’s life, I’ve done my job,” Coleman said.
And that’s a message that resonates from this generation to the last.
Coleman added, “We can do something. We can make a real change in Fresno.”