In 2019, from information gathered in the annual federally mandated Point-in-Time Count, a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) analysis found that close to 567,000 people experienced homelessness in the United States. The majority were sheltered in either emergency shelters or transitional housing, however, 37% of these unhoused individuals and families were unsheltered.
This study also found that Black and Brown people remain overrepresented in the unhoused population. African-Americans accounted for 40% of all people experiencing homelessness in 2019 and 52% of families experiencing homelessness in that year despite being only 13% of the U.S. population.
Institutionalized racism, generational poverty, a racially biased criminal justice system, the racist war on drugs, inadequate schools, a prison industrial complex that thrives on incarcerating Black and Brown people and many other institutionalized factors are the root cause of the disproportionate numbers of minorities living on the streets.
Estimates for this year reflect the same numbers of unhoused folks, although no Point-in-Time Count was done in 2021 because of the Covid epidemic. There is no data out yet on the 2022 Point-in-Time Count.
Critics of these point-in-time counts say the count is just a snapshot of one night when volunteers count and interview the unhoused on the streets, is inaccurate and misses many people. Some say it is a significant undercount.
The most recent information in Fresno is the Point-in-Time Count of 2020 that counted 3,641 people experiencing homelessness, with 2,681 unsheltered, 645 chronically homeless, 1,137 experiencing significant mental illness and 419 having substance-abuse disorders.
Of the total, 1,898 were of Hispanic/Latino heritage, 669 were African American, 347 were Native American, 101 were of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, 2,146 were White and 378 were mixed race.
Again, in Fresno, as in the United States, there is a disproportionate number of ethnic and racial minorities suffering homelessness. The mayor and the City Council must recognize this and take immediate steps to address the inherent racism of the current system.
The current system and approach to addressing homelessness here and across the United States is federally mandated, through HUD, and is called the Continuum of Care (CoC) program. A CoC is a regional or local planning body that coordinates housing and homeless services for the area.
HUD has identified four necessary parts of a continuum: outreach, intake and assessment; emergency shelter to provide an immediate safe alternative to sleeping on the street; transitional housing with supportive services to allow for skills development; and permanent supportive housing to provide an affordable place to live.
The Fresno Madera CoC (FMCoC) has 40 members that include the city, the county and a number of other organizations and service providers such as Poverello House, RH Community Builders, Turning Point, Kingsview Behavioral Health and Westcare. All of these organizations receive large amounts of public dollars to provide services and management for transitional housing, shelter housing, substance abuse treatment and more.
The Fresno County Civil Grand Jury Report of 2019–2020 found that “current efforts [of the FMCoC] lack coordination and threaten the very objective to be achieved, eliminating homelessness.” The report found a lack of central coordination, a lack of transparency and a failure to communicate to the public at large regarding services provided to the homeless.
The report recommended audits of organizations that receive funding through the FMCoC and more efforts to make the public aware of FMCoC operations including website improvements. The report also suggested that FMCoC proceedings should be subject to the Brown Act. Although some efforts have been made to address the Grand Jury Report, many of the issues remain the same.
The CoC approach has been used for many years and is an abject failure. Millions of public dollars have been spent.
Rather than funding permanent supportive housing with a Housing First approach, our dollars are being spent on a temporary solution that actually perpetuates homelessness. Cities, counties and service providers rely on these dollars and some are only in existence because of these dollars.
Here in California, and nationwide, there is an industry that has been created by the failed CoC approach. It is large, has immense influence and lobbying power and is the biggest roadblock to implementing real solutions such as a Housing First approach.