Fresno County acts on addressing homeless issue

Board of Supervisors approves homelessness action plan and other action items; FMCoC in line to receive over $25 million in HHAP funds

Deputy County Administrative Officer Amina Flores Becker presenting the Fresno County Board of Supervisors with the county’s local homelessness action plan on March 19. (Darren Fraser)
Deputy County Administrative Officer Amina Flores Becker presenting the Fresno County Board of Supervisors with the county’s local homelessness action plan on March 19. (Darren Fraser)
Darren Fraser
Published March 20, 2024  • 
1:00 pm

FRESNO COUNTY – At its most recent gathering, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors (Board) concurrently greenlit various action items essential for the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care service area (FMCoC) to secure funding for the fifth cycle of Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention, known as HHAP-5.

But despite a thorough and polished presentation from the County Administrative Office (CAO) showcasing FMCoC’s Local Homelessness Action Plan (Action Plan), Supervisor Steve Brandau and members of the public remained dubious regarding the plan’s potential for ending regional homelessness.

At stake is over $25.7 million in grant funding for HHAP-5 from the state. Deputy County Administrative Officer Amina Flores Becker walked the Board through the presentation at the March 19 meeting. FMCoC has until March 29 to file an application with the state for funding. If the application is approved, the state will issue an agreement for the funding.

“That agreement will be brought to your board later this year for approval,” Becker said. “The county will get to work with its partners in addressing homelessness, with the ultimate goal of ending homelessness in our region.”

FMCOC

FMCoC has overlapping jurisdictions that include Madera County, Fresno County, the city of Fresno and FMCoC. Of the $25.7 million in HHAP-F funding, the city of Fresno would receive $13 million. FMCoC would be eligible for $6.5 million, Fresno County would be eligible for $5.2 million and Madera County would be eligible for $1 million.

Becker said there are funding requirements. A minimum of 10% of funding – $2.6 million – must be allocated for youth services and no more than 7%, or $1.8 million, may be used to cover administrative costs.

She added that of the $25.7 million, over $16 million or 62% would be allocated for interim shelters. The next largest piece of the allocation pie would be for rental assistance – 9%, or over $2.45 million. She said these allocations fall across all jurisdictions, with each member paying its proportionate amount. All told, there are 10 programs that would receive funding from the $25.7 million, including street outreach for youths and adults, youth permanent housing, and prevention and shelter diversion.

ACTION PLAN

According to the Action Plan, Fresno County needs a progressive approach to dealing with its homeless population. Becker presented system performance measures – homelessness statistics – for FMCoC for the years 2020 through 2022. She said the data was taken from the Homelessness Information Management System (HMIS) that receives input from all service providers in the FMCoC region.

From 2020 through 2022, over 8,000 people who were homeless accessed services. Over 4,400 people were homeless for the first time during that period. On any given night, over 2,300 were unsheltered – the nuance between being unsheltered and homeless is no doubt lost on the individuals who are experiencing either.

Becker said it is paramount the Action Plan has clearly delineated roles and responsibilities. The Action Plan includes four roles/responsibilities, including outreach and site coordination, land use and development, development of shelter, interim, and permanent housing options, and coordination of and connection to service delivery.

She said the latter role/responsibility is important because the county requires that county-funded shelters must act as access sites.

“In the case someone presents with homelessness needs to the shelter, it acts as an access site. Even if there are no shelter beds, there are other services available and other connections to services,” said Becker.

Becker said the Action Plan also contains an improvement plan component designed to improve three categories: assessment, transition and utilization.

With respect to assessment, FMCoC and its partners are working on an assessment tool to ensure more accurate vulnerability ratings and appropriate matches to housing. The Action Plan contains programs that assist individuals exiting jails, prisons, and hospitals.

Lastly, the Action Plan utilizes local, state, and federal funds to end homelessness. These funds come from various programs, such as No Place Like Home (NPLH), prior HHAP founding, HOME Investment Partnerships Program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), CalWorks and others.

NO REAL GAME PLAN

Brandau thanked Becker for her presentation but said he was pessimistic about not only this local approach, but also about the approach the state has taken through Project Homekey and other programs.

“I see the number of beds that are available and it doesn’t measure up to the amount of need,” Brandau told Becker. “Purchasing hotels, converting them, 50 beds, 80 beds, 120 beds, 200 beds – cool concept, but in the end, they’re going to be converted into permanent housing. To me, I don’t see a game plan.”

He added, “I’m not convinced we’re on the right strategy to take a lot of people off the street and get them the help they need.”

Brandau said the state’s priority has been to refurbish hotels and motels and convert them into permanent housing. He mentioned Crossroads Village off Blackstone Avenue in Fresno.

“The county helped fund Crossroads,” he said. “What’s going to happen to the homeless once that’s been converted to permanent housing? Where is the shelter housing we still see out on the streets?”

Phil Skei is the assistant director of planning and development for Fresno. Skei told the Board that Fresno recently surplused three properties. He said two are motel shelters and one is vacant land. Brandau asked what become of the properties once they have been converted to permanent housing.

“They will come offline,” said Skei – meaning, no more temporary housing.

Supervisors Buddy Mendes and Sal Quintero addressed the apparent apathy among homeless individuals when it comes to accepting county assistance.

Mendes said, “Pre-pandemic, we had only a handful of people who were accepting services. And then the pandemic came and that increased by a lot. Where are we now with people accepting services?”

Becker said that very seldom are services accepted.

Quintero asked FMCoC Chair Laura Moreno about the problem of engaging people who are homeless when they show no interest in receiving assistance.

“A lot of folks on the street,” Quintero said, “When the county shows up and asks if they’re interested in housing or rehabilitation, they won’t accept it and just move on.”

“We’re all human,” said Moreno. “People have to be ready and be assured; assured that if they agree to services, it will actually lead to something. Or will this be another moment in time when they say yes and nothing comes of it?”

During public comments, Robert McCloskey, who volunteers for the Fresno Homeless Union, said he agreed with Brandau’s skepticism.

“Steve Brandau, you asked a great question,” said McCloskey. “Where are all these people going to go? Crossroads has already been developed into permanent housing. It’s only a small number of shelter beds we are actually providing.”

McCloskey told the Board to regard Crossroads Village as a cautionary tale of malfeasance.

“They (the developers) got $14 million from Homekey funds,” he said. “RH Community Builders and UPholdings own that building now. This was a publicly funded project the county went in on with RH/UPholdings and the developers wind up owning these buildings. That’s wrong. That’s a giveaway of public dollars. Stop the profit taking.”

According to a Nov. 13, 2023 fresnoland story, UPholdings acquired Crossroads Village in 2020. Fresno County received $14.8 million in Project Homekey funds to purchase the property. In 2022, RH Community Builders and UPholdings received a $38 million forgivable loan from the state to finance renovations on the property.

Darren Fraser
Reporter