By Mike Rhodes
At the beginning of this year, the Community Alliance started providing some basic public services for the homeless. Portable toilets and a trash bin were set up on F Street, between Ventura and Santa Clara streets, the site of a large homeless encampment.
We set this up because the homeless people living on the streets have no place to go to the bathroom and allowing trash to build up in piles on the street is a health hazard, not only for the homeless but also for the entire community. Initially, these services, which cost about $600 a month, were paid for by the Reality Tours I conducted at the homeless encampments. I would take a group of 5‒15 people on a two-hour walk through the encampments of downtown Fresno, exposing many people for the first time to the realities of the homeless. Participants’ donations paid for the project for the first six months or so.
On the Reality Tour, we would often stop and talk to the homeless about their lives and wonder out loud how millions of dollars could be coming into Fresno to end homelessness, yet none of that money reached the people who needed it most. Providing portable toilets and a trash bin seemed like the least we could do to address the needs of the homeless.
Although the City of Fresno did nothing to help in providing these services, the good news is that they did not stop us from helping the homeless. We are still hearing rumors that the city is going to be evicting the homeless from one or more of the encampments downtown, but it is unclear how that will affect this project. Simply chasing people from one vacant lot to another has not worked in the past, and there is no reason to believe that strategy will end homelessness now.
I realized that it was not sustainable to continue begging money from my friends month after month to keep this project going so I started reaching out to faith-based groups for help. For $5,000, we could provide portable toilets and trash bins for all of the homeless who live in the downtown encampments. There are four or five major homeless encampments downtown, depending on how you classify them.
Although we have not yet found enough funding for all of the encampments, one generous donor approached the Fresno Regional Foundation and provided the funding to keep the current services on F Street operating for a year. There is hope that one or more faith-based groups will see the merit of helping the homeless with these basic public services and make a commitment to fund them at one or more of the other encampments.
Clearly, these services are not going to end homelessness, but they are helping those who are most in need with something that will provide them with a little dignity, clean up the streets of Fresno (less litter) and make the lives of homeless people a little better.
The City of Fresno insists that they are addressing homelessness by providing housing, but at $200,000 per unit (see the Sept. 12 Fresno Bee story) it will be a long time (or never) before everyone has a place to live. In the meantime, there is something we can do—by supporting this project you can make a difference for the homeless right here and now. Contributions can be sent to the Community Alliance, P.O. Box 5077, Fresno, CA 93755. Please note that the contribution is for the homeless. Every dollar donated goes directly for these services; no money is used for administrative fees.
Mike Rhodes is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.