CBS47 INVESTIGATES: $100M in homeless funding in Fresno, tens of millions yet to be spent

CBS47 Investigates

FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – The homeless population in the greater Fresno area increased by 96% over the past two years.

CBS47 took a hard look at the money that has poured into our community this year to help reduce the homeless population – and discovered tens of millions yet to be spent.

When you add up all the federal and state grants available to our community since the beginning of 2020, and what continues to be awarded, it totals more than $100 million.

That’s more money received than ever before.

“This is a once in a lifetime, generational amount of funding,” said H Spees, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Mayor’s Office and oversees city homeless response.

Homelessness has gone from a concern to a crisis.

According to point-in-time data, a homeless count conducted by the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care each year, the number of people homeless has almost doubled in two years.

In 2018, there were 1,834 people homeless in the city and county of Fresno. In 2020, that number increased to 3,251.

“This is a crisis within a crisis,” Spees said.

Because of the Coronavirus, state and federal assistance came pouring in.

“Having money for homelessness is great, having it all at one time is tough,” Laura Moreno, FMCOC Chair and oversees county homeless response, said.

The City, County, Continuum of Care, and the Fresno Housing Authority were recipients of these state and federal grants.

Coronavirus relief specific for the homeless was given in the form of Emergency Solution Grants, SB-89, CARES Act money, Community Development Block Grants, and Homekey Grants.

These COVID-19 funds come as an addition to the existing CESH, HEAP, HHAP grants – that have either not been fully spent or not spent at all. A second round of HHAP has already been allocated this year and will be awarded to the FMCOC, City, and County.

Adding together these funding sources, there is more than $100 million among the city, county, FMCOC, and Fresno Housing Authority to be spent exclusively on homeless efforts.

“We don’t want to leave any money on the table because the need is there,” Moreno said.

As of today, there are tens of millions left on the table, nine months into the pandemic.

So far, Moreno says the county has spent five million dollars and Spees echoed that number, saying the city has spent five million as well.

Homekey is a big portion of this funding. Fresno Housing Authority was awarded $24.1 million this year through Homekey. The County was awarded $15.3 million through Homekey.

Preston Prince, the CEO of the Fresno Housing Authority, showed us the four motels that will be purchased through Homekey grants.

“For us, we’re really appreciative of the state for giving us this chance and like I said we’ve got to perform,” Prince said. “We’ve got some work ahead of us.”

All entities agree the lack of affordable housing is the greatest obstacle in helping the homeless and say Homekey will help tremendously.

“After COVID hit there was less than a 1% vacancy rate,” Moreno explained. “So where do you move people to?”

She says the lack of housing has made spending some of the money difficult when asked if we could have spent more of this funding to help more people.

“I don’t know where we would’ve put more people,” Moreno said.

The plan is to use Emergency Solution Grants to help support Homekey.

Moreno and Spees say those grants, totaling more than $15 million, will be used to help pay rent for the homeless after they are moved into the hotel rooms.

These Emergency Solution Grants are specific to helping the homeless with Coronavirus relief.

We asked Moreno if we should be using this money right now in the middle of the pandemic rather than waiting to spend it.

“Do I have the ability to push out more? Do I have more room? Probably not,” Moreno said.

Recently the City, County, and Continuum of Care were criticized in their handling of the homeless. A Civil Grand Jury Investigation conducted in 2019 was released in October.

The report found “there is a lack of robust central coordination in providing homeless services in Fresno County.”

“Absolutely there’s work to be done with government entities, you know, politics,” Moreno said. “You can take a look at different meetings and you can see there is some tension between the two political bodies.”

The Civil Grand Jury found there to be a lack of transparency at the FMCOC.

“Their claim that the Continuum needs to share more, absolutely,” Moreno said. “But, I’ll tell you the reason we haven’t is because we’re all volunteer. The reason we’re not sharing the information is because whoever is doing it is also doing their own job.”

This could have hindered their ability to effectively spend their share of funding.

“We can only do so much with what we have,” Moreno said. “Sure, if I had another 20 people, we could have had all of this money out.”

The Civil Grand Jury report says “it was evident this all-volunteer organization does not have the necessary resources to provide requisite coordination and oversight.”

Spees says an initiative Street 2 Home will soon provide proper oversight and coordination of homeless efforts in Fresno.

Street 2 Home efforts have been stalled because of the Coronavirus, but once board positions are filled, Spees says there will be a more centralized response.

“I think implementing the suggestions on the Grand Jury Report will be high on our list of priorities.”

We asked Spees what his message to the public would be as we’re looking at all of this money that came into our community and seeing there’s already been criticism on the leaders over our homeless funding.

“I would say the Grand Jury pointed out ways we can provide additional coordination and oversight to our homeless delivery system and that’s sorely needed,” Spees said. “In the meantime, our city council, board of supervisors, FMCOC, has done a remarkable job to get the job done.”

We have tens of millions of dollars to put toward homeless resources but Thursday night on CBS47 Eyewitness News at 7, we show you the struggle to get the homeless to accept these resources.

Of the people the Fresno Homeless Task Force comes into contact with daily, only one percent of the homeless accept help. We did a ride-along with one of those officers so you see what homelessness in Fresno looks like first-hand.

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