Incoming state funds keep Fresno, Madera leaders optimistic about rise in homelessness

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Homelessness on the rise again. It’s up nearly 20% in Fresno and Madera counties, according to the latest homeless count numbers from the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care. Despite the increase, new funding is giving elected leaders hope in curbing the issue.

When the continuum’s chair Shawn Jenkins, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Magsig announced the new numbers Friday — they also announced some plans already in motion for the funding.

The latest numbers mark an increase for the third year in a row. In the city of Fresno alone, the increase ia a little more than 16%. The largest increase was seen in the unsheltered homeless count in the city of Madera — where it increased more than 83%.

However, there’s a little optimism this year thanks to a little help from former Gov. Jerry Brown. In 2018, he awarded Fresno $3.1 million and the continuum $9.5 million from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program, also known as HEAP.

The city will be getting those dollars over the next three years. Fresno City Council decided months ago where the money will go.

“A small, low-barrier shelter strategically located in the community with the path to permanent housing,” said Brand. “Proactive resources to prevent homelessness of at-risk families and housing with area landlords offering assistance to mitigate their risk and renting to folks fresh off the streets.”

A low-barrier shelter is a facility that doesn’t have some of the strict requirements other shelters have.

This new shelter will be rolled out in July, with 90 standard beds and 33 transitional housing beds.

Jenkins adds the new funding will help provide diversion services for around 300 people and rapid rehousing — which is immediate housing placement and short-term rental assistance.

These are programs were not available before.

“We’ve never had funded shelters, we’ve never had landlord mitigation,” he said. “These are new services and we are committed to evaluate and adjust as necessary.”

Brand is also hopeful because Gov. Gavin Newsom has increased proposed homelessness spending for the next budget.

“We’re going from $500 million to $650 million, there should be a substantial increase in our funding,” he said.

Magsig made it a point to say collaboration is key to battling homelessness, adding the county, cities and a number of nonprofits have been identifying issues.

“When you look at homelessness and how people become homeless — some people have mental health issues, others have addiction issues, some have lost jobs,” he said.

The living proof of that collaboration? 14 priorities listed in a resolution that the Fresno County Board of Supervisors passed on Tuesday to deal with the problem.

The list includes things like priority access for women and children and improved outreach to homeless folks.

In the end, all three leaders say there are no easy answers to the growing problem of homelessness.

“Simply put, we need to step up our efforts and rise to the challenge,” Brand said.

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