FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – Local government still has tens of millions of dollars to spend on homeless resources – as we showed you in Wednesday night’s special report here.
However, only a small fraction of the local homeless population is accepting help and services – even though the money is there and resources are coming.
Fresno Police’s Homeless Task Force reports that, of the people they come in contact with, only 1% are accepting help.
There is $100 million going toward homeless resources – that almost 99 percent of the homeless population is turning down.
CBS47 was invited on a ride-along with the Homeless Task Force. The five officers are responsible for responding to a homeless population that has almost doubled in two years, but the number of officers remains the same.
The first thing an officer does when they see a person homeless is ask if they would like help. The choice to decline help is the decision 98.3% of homeless people choose.
It’s a cycle with very slight change.
“We pick up their trash and then they’ll come back and get another pile and build their empire again in the next week,” Holden said. “Then we’ll get another call. It’s a revolving door, unfortunately.”
The Task Force Commander is aware of the revolving door.
“It probably seems like Groundhog Day over and over to them,” said Lieutenant Robert Beckwith, commander of the Homeless Task Force.
On our ride-along, we noticed several people homeless were breaking laws such as lighting fires against stores, stealing shopping carts, and illegally camping on sidewalks and highways.
The Homeless Task Force told us only 2.2% of the time have the officers enforced any laws this year with the homeless they come in contact with.
“We are not criminalizing the homeless,” Beckwith said. “Our goal is simply not to arrest our way out of this problem.”
“Do they have the right to be here on this property, no,” Holden said, gesturing to homeless people illegally camped on private property. “No, they’re trespassing. This is private property. They don’t have the right to be here.”
“If we’ve had to resort to an enforcement action such as an arrest it’s typically a last resort,” Beckwith said.
We questioned him on this policy, asking why it’s the last resort even if a law is being broken.
“Because ultimately, we try to aim for voluntary compliance and we try to get these folks into services.”
But according to their own statistics, that’s not happening with less than 2% of homeless accepting services.
“We need to find out why they’re refusing services,” Holden says this is his greatest concern.
If you drive through Fresno, the overflow of homeless is visible – but a cruise through Clovis looks different. Their policies look different too.
“When you drive through Clovis, you don’t ever see transient camps you may see in other California cities,” Lieutenant Jim Munro, Clovis Police Department, said. “We enforce the law, we don’t let things slide. We try and provide services and get people off the street, but also, if they’re in violation of the law, we will cite or arrest them. The community of Clovis wants the community to be nice and doesn’t want camps on every corner.”
In Fresno, camps are piling up. Policy dictates that only the camps on city property can be enforced by Fresno Police. State highways are off-limits, as are encampments along railroads.
Fresno Police also need permission from the city to act on homeless people on private property.
“You figure out what you can and can’t do and that’s it, there’s no grey area,” Holden said.
We asked the Homeless Task Force Commander if the system in place is working right now.
“Our system, we’re managing the problem right now,” Beckwith said. “But we need to do more in order to move from manage to something we can say is a little bit more successful.”
The Task Force remains hopeful for a solution and that one day they will move from managing to minimizing homelessness in Fresno.
Meanwhile, the Homeless Task Force within the Fresno Police Department could be at risk of being cut. It has been mentioned in various city council meetings this year as part of police reform discussions.