Fresno County doles out $21M for homeless services

Board of Supervisors approve over $21 million in homeless service agreements, express concern over 15% cap on number of beds for special homeless populations

Deputy County Administrative Officer Amina Flores Becker presenting the Fresno County Board of Supervisors with the agreement on May 21. (Darren Fraser)
Darren Fraser
Published May 29, 2024  • 
9:00 am

FRESNO COUNTY – The Board of Supervisors recently approved over $21 million in homeless services agreements that were divided among seven organizations, with a local organization receiving over $1.9 million. Despite this, there was a considerable debate regarding a 15% cap placed on homeless beds for special populations, leading two supervisors to declare the cap arbitrary and prompting another supervisor to submit a motion to abandon the cap in its entirety.

For over an hour at the May 21 meeting, Deputy County Administrative Officer (CAO) Amina Flores-Becker spoke and fielded questions regarding the over $21 million in homeless service agreements the county awarded to service providers, including Turning Point of Central California, Poverello House, Marjaree Mason Center, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, WestCare, California, Inc. and Selma C.O.M.

The money was entirely offset from funding rounds from the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) Grant Program. The county is the administrative entity for HHAP funding that is allocated to the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care (FMCoC), which is organized to provide a comprehensive coordinated homeless housing and services delivery system called a continuum of care.

At the start of her presentation, Flores-Becker noted that the county is responsible for all homeless funding allocation in the county. While it is true the city of Fresno receives homelessness funding allocation from the state, Fresno County foots the bill for all other communities.

Flores-Becker explained that in 2018, an ad hoc committee was formed to make recommendations on homelessness spending in the county. This committee considered various factors to determine how funding should be allocated. They proposed a limit of 10 shelter beds for specific populations, such as single, unaccompanied women, which is the group served by Naomi’s House in Fresno. At that time, these 10 beds made up 9% of the county-funded beds. The FMCoC board approved this cap.

As of 2024, this cap has increased to a 15% limit on special population shelter beds. Unlike general service shelters like Turning Point, which serve nearly all homeless groups, Naomi’s House is the only shelter in the county that provides beds exclusively for single, unaccompanied women. Because of the 15% cap, funding will be cut for 23 out of Naomi’s House’s 34 beds, each costing the county $24,000 annually.

“We had this conversation four months ago,” said Darrah, who spoke during public comments. “There were several responses. One was about equity. This 15% cap was done as an equitable challenge as it pertained to the allocation of the resources. For me, it actually creates an inequitable access to services for women who are on our streets. 

“We were told there was a landscape analysis that was done to come up with this cap; unfortunately, we were never contacted about that. Thirty-six percent of people on the street in our community are women. We are turning away women every single night. Yet the landscape analysis found this 15% cap was appropriate.”

Poverello House is a homeless shelter, which runs Naomi’s House. Sarah Mirhadi is chief programming officer at Poverello House and was at one time the director of Naomi House. Mirhadi echoed Darrah’s opinion that putting a cap on specialized populations is not equitable.

“Sixty-seven percent of women (at the shelter) are women of color. Twenty-three percent are 55 or older. I don’t want to figure out which women will go out on the streets if this funding does not go through.”

The discussion pivoted to Bridge Housing Program funding. According to Flores-Becker, $700,000 in Bridge funding was available but not allocated because no service provider submitted a request for proposal (RFP) to utilize the funding.

Supervisor Steve Brandau – who, along with Supervisor Brian Pacheco, said he believes the 15% cap that evolved from the ad hoc committee was an arbitrary number and, according to Brandau, “too low” – asked Flores-Becker if the county could dip into the $700,000 to provide funding for the 23 unfunded beds at Naomi’s House.

“Nobody applied for the Bridge funding dollars,” said Brandau. “I am interested in petitioning the state to allow us to use Bridge dollars, unless you have plans for them.”

“We do have plans,” replied Flores-Becker. “There are currently existing shelters and facilities that serve families and children. My recommendation is we continue to pursue those other plans that are specific to those services (i.e., families and children).”

The discussion pivoted again, this time to how much responsibility the city of Fresno bears for providing money to keep the 23 beds funded.

After Flores-Becker expressed confidence that a third-party funder would be in place by September to help alleviate some of the funding issues, Pacheco asked – with respect to Poverello and Naomi’s House – if the third-party funder is actually the city of Fresno, to which Becker-Flores said yes. This elicited a mild, rhetorical rebuke from Pacheco.

Prior to taking a vote on the issue, Supervisor Sal Quitero submitted two motions, one of which was the Board vote down the 15% cap. The second was the Board reopen the notice of funding availability (NOFA) process. Pacheco argued against this, agreeing with Department of Social Services (DSS) Director Sanja Bugay that the best course was to stay the course.

The Board rejected Quintero’s motions and approved using Bridge funding to shore up funding for July and August while it searches for alternative funding sources to assist Naomi’s House. 

SELMA COMMUNITY OUTREACH MINISTRIES

Selma C.O.M. emerged unscathed from the two hour-plus meeting. The organization received nearly $1.5 million for rapid rehousing services and over $470,000 for diversion services. Both are two-year contracts with an optional one-year extension.

Delfina Vazquez has been the CEO of Selma C.O.M. since 2015. The organization has been helping the homeless in Selma and throughout the county since 2014. She said rapid rehousing is exactly what it sounds like.

“The point of rapid rehousing is to provide housing first,” said Vazquez. “We then worry about their circumstances to keep them housed.” She added that the bulk of the $1.5 million goes toward rent. She admits skyrocketing rent has forced the organization to be inventive.

“We’ve had to be creative and do room rentals. Shared housing has worked well because rent has skyrocketed, almost making it impossible for people to sustain themselves,” she said.

Vazquez said housing homeless individuals is about much more than simply putting a roof over their heads.

“A lot of the ways we’ve been able to keep people housed is by getting them a place where they can sustain themselves and by not setting them up for failure,” she said.

Finding an individual’s purpose goes hand in hand with finding them a place to live.

“After housing, we get them into some kind of program,” Vazquez said. “One of the programs that has been successful is we assign them to in-home support services as a provider. That gives them a job and they’re able to sustain themselves.”

Diversion services are strategies to keep individuals from being evicted; for example, this could be a person who is behind three months on rent and is facing eviction. Vazquez Selma C.O.M. will work with the landlord, if they are amenable, to negotiate a stay of eviction and keep the individual in their home.

The organization also works with victims of domestic violence. Vazquez provided the following example.

“A woman comes to us who is the victim of domestic violence,” she said. “She says, ‘I don’t want to file a police report because my husband will find me and kill me.’ We look for an alternative. Maybe we’ll get her a one-way bus ticket to live with her mother. That’s diversion.”

It is a busy place. Vazquez said it is not unusual for upwards of 30 people to come to the building on Whitson Street every day.

“We’re open seven days a week,” she said. “Some people aren’t looking for housing. Some are okay with being homeless. They just want something to eat. Or hygiene products. Or a shower. Today is Tuesday. Showers are open.”

Selma C.O.M. serves hot meals from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day. People can get coffee or rest or charge their cell phones. There are computers for job hunting or if people need help working on their resumes.

“No video games,” Vazquez said while laughing.

Darren Fraser
Reporter