Fresno-Madera counties see low rise in homeless count

Fresno-Madera County homeless population increase in 2023 is relatively low for California, shows positive trajectory for the area, says Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig

Homeless in Dinuba escape the heat by relaxing under a tree at Rose Ann Vuich Park. (Kenny Goodman)
Homeless in Dinuba escape the heat by relaxing under a tree at Rose Ann Vuich Park. (Kenny Goodman)
Serena Bettis
Published July 30, 2023  • 
3:00 pm

FRESNO COUNTY – Homelessness in the Fresno-Madera area increased by about 7% over the last year, according to the latest Point-in-Time count, but Fresno County officials say they are making positive progress in addressing the needs of the unhoused. 

The Fresno-Madera Continuum of Care (FMCoC) reported that 4,493 people experienced homelessness across Fresno and Madera counties during the Point-in-Time (PIT) count conducted Jan. 24, a slight increase from the 4,216 individuals reported in the 2022 PIT count. Fresno County District 5 Supervisor Nathan Magsig said the increase is on par with other trends across California and even much lower than many areas. 

“This tells me our area is not immune to the factors that lead people to become homeless, but our efforts at mitigating homelessness are working,” Magsig said. “This is positive news, and we can look at what has been successful and replicate those efforts and what has not been as successful and allows us to pivot.”

Continuums of Care, which are organizations that coordinate homeless assistance, are required by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to complete PIT counts at least every other year in order to receive federal funding. During the PIT count process, volunteers also survey homeless individuals to gather additional data that Magsig said informs the work the FMCoC, the county and other agencies do to assist people experiencing homelessness.

“The types of programs needed, the types of supportive services, the type of housing needed – all of that is drawn from the PIT,” Magsig said. 

The FMCoC also conducted a Housing Inventory Count (HIC) in January, which shows the number of “beds and units dedicated to serving homeless and formerly homeless persons,” according to the report. 

FMCoC reported a 25% decrease in its HIC, meaning that there were 1,287 fewer year-round beds available in 2023 than in 2022. The HIC includes year-round beds and seasonal and overflow beds that become available in times of extreme weather. FMCoC counts beds in different types of housing assistance programs, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing and other permanent housing locations.

Magsig said that although the decrease in available shelter beds is concerning, “the reason for the loss of those beds is positive.”

Between 2020 and 2022, the county and city of Fresno had “brought online” new shelter beds both in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and thanks to funding made available through California’s Homekey program. Magsig said that in January, a 165-unit hotel room was closed to begin renovations that would transition it to permanent housing, and the city of Fresno did the same with two other locations, likely contributing to the decrease in shelter beds recorded on the PIT date. 

“In a few years, we are going to see large increases in the number of people who were experiencing homelessness moving into permanent housing,” Magsig said. “The Homekey projects in this area will offer many more people an opportunity to be housed and that is moving in the right direction.”

According to the FMCoC report, another “significant improvement” was that the bed utilization rate — the number of occupied beds compared to available beds — was at 91%, up from 68% in 2022. 

The 2023 report also showed that unsheltered individuals made up 61% of the total homeless population in the area with 39% having shelter. In the rural communities of Fresno County, which Magsig’s district covers, it is more difficult for individuals to find shelter and there are fewer opportunities to convert motels into shelter, he said.

Overall, Fresno County needs more housing in general and specifically needs more affordable housing in order to better address homelessness, Magsig said. 

“Government rules and regulations have made it more expensive and difficult to build new housing anywhere,” Magsig said. “With labor costs, materials and interest rates all on the rise, this has impacted the affordability and number of housing projects across the board too.”

The full PIT count report is available on the FMCoC website.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter