Suffering by the numbers: In 2022, the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department reported 582,000 unhoused individuals in the United States. Of that number, 233,832 were unsheltered and living on the streets.
California reported 171,500 homeless individuals in 2022, and of those 115,492 were unsheltered and living on the streets. Since 2020, California’s homeless population has grown 6% and locally it has grown 6.5%.
The Fresno Bee reports that the number of unhoused people in Fresno and Madera counties is at its highest point in 10 years. The 2023 point-in-time count of unhoused residents in the city and county, conducted by the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care (FMCoC) cites 4,493 unhoused individuals in Fresno and Madera counties. Of that number, the city of Fresno has 1,819 unsheltered individuals and 1,388 individuals living in temporary shelters for a total of 3,207. Fresno County outside the city of Fresno has 594 unsheltered individuals and only 11 living in shelters for a total of 605.
It must be noted that the point-in-time count is an undercount. Laura Moreno, chair of the FMCoC, admitted this to the Fresno Bee saying that “I am absolutely sure that we’re missing people” when referring to the count.
Despite billions being allocated from the State of California to address homelessness, the crisis continues. CNN recently reported that California spent $17.5 billion from 2018 to 2022 to address homelessness. Another $3.1 billion has been allocated through 2024.
Jason Elliott, senior adviser on homelessness for Gov. Gavin Newsom, told CNN that “the problem would be so much worse absent the interventions.”
Doing the math, $17.5 billion divided by the number of unhoused individuals in California, 171,500, is $102,000 per unhoused individual over a four-year period, or $25,510 per year.
Of the $17.5 billion in funding allocated by the State from 2018 until 2022, $3.7 billion was invested in Project Homekey to convert motels and commercial properties into permanent, affordable housing and for interim use as temporary shelters; 13,500 Homekey units have been established.
The City of Fresno and Fresno County have used Homekey funds to convert a number of motels into temporary, low-barrier shelters. These shelters are gradually being converted into affordable housing units.
The State allocated another $2 billion in tax credits for developers. (So far, 481 new affordable housing units have been built.) Another $2 billion was used to restart affordable housing projects, and $2 billion went toward emergency rental assistance. Another $4 billion was allocated to mental health services and supporting other initiatives and services for unhoused people.
Locally, as reported by the Fresno Bee in December 2022, the City, the County and the FMCoC received $270 million in state and federal grants to address homelessness. The Fresno Housing Authority received $24.1 million in Project Homekey funds. The County received $15.5 million in Project Homekey funds. The City also received $15 million in federal Emergency Solution Grants to provide shelter services.
In 2021, the City received $42 million in emergency rental assistance funding from the state and federal governments. In addition, the City and County have received American Rescue funding for housing and services for unhoused residents. Recently, the City was granted another $17 million in state dollars for “encampment resolution” to be focused on the downtown area. Advocates are concerned about how these funds will be used and are pressing for more permanent solutions.
The region has used state and federal funding to provide 3,814 year-round beds for unhoused residents. The large majority are located in the city of Fresno. According to the FMCoC, 91% are filled and most shelters remain fully occupied on a daily basis, as street family members consistently report.
Of these 3,814 beds, there are 1,480 low-barrier “emergency shelter” beds for the short term (up to six months). There are 349 “transitional housing” beds intended to provide shelter for up to 18 months. There are 441 “rapid rehousing” beds, which provide vouchers and other financial support for rental assistance for up to 24 months. There are 1,491 “permanent supportive housing” beds, which provide long-term financial support and on-site services.
The taxpayers of California need an audit to determine exactly how the astounding amount of $17.5 billion in funds has been allocated and spent. The audit should include all counties, cities and CoCs in California. All homeless service providers and shelter operators should be audited.
The public, understandably, questions, with so many public dollars allocated and spent, why is the number of people living on the streets increasing and why is there so little accountability. Over the past four years, some improvements have been made in Fresno, and one-time funding was used to provide temporary housing and services. Some good things have happened, some bad decisions have been made and some ugly City policies have been implemented.
The City established more than 3,000 new low-barrier shelter beds. Some of these beds are temporary, and some are transitional. The City has increased the hours and improved the operational criteria for opening warming centers in the winter and cooling centers in the summer.
The City is providing two new mobile shower/sanitation units that rotate every weekday throughout the city to provide cleanliness and dignity for unhoused residents. The City is also providing a mobile medical clinic at different locations during the week providing immunization and basic health services.
Poverello House and other service providers have increased services and outreach to unhoused residents. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, funded by the federal government, helped hundreds of residents stay housed. In addition, it’s good that the City is planning to develop several tiny home villages in the near future, a step toward providing permanent housing.
Last year, the City attempted to implement an ordinance, co-authored by Council Member Miguel Arias, to bar homeless advocates and the media from being near homeless encampment sweeps. The ACLU filed a lawsuit and won. The City had to pay more than $375,000 of your tax dollars in legal fees and court costs as a result.
Also bad is that the City has rejected calls from renters and community organizations to implement rent stabilization measures and rent control policies. Rent control would help stem the tide of eviction-based homelessness.
Bad is the fact that City- and County-funded shelters are understaffed and do not provide adequate services to help shelter residents get back on their feet. These shelters continue to serve poor food with small portions. Many shelter residents complain of poor treatment and lack of respect from staff.
Also bad is the fact that millions of dollars have been spent locally and billions of dollars have been spent statewide with almost no permanent housing being built.
In addition, it is bad that the City has failed to build a fully funded tiny home village that would house 100 individuals. The project has been stalled and on hold for more than a year and a half. Several City Council members said that the City has been unable to locate a lot on which to build the village that is not contaminated with pollutants. They said the cleanup cost of contaminated land is too high.
The City is attempting to continually criminalize the unhoused people of Fresno. The most recent example of this is the ordinance, co-authored by Arias and implemented on July 7, that bans unhoused residents from most locations at all times and severely limits the amount of personal property one can have (read “Kill the Poor” in the July issue of the Community Alliance).
The FMCoC recently sent a letter to Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and the City Council to request a meeting on the new ordinance. The letter states that “we believe this ordinance criminalizes the presence and possessions of people experiencing homelessness.”
The letter goes on to state that “the CoC receives millions of dollars in funding from HUD and that HUD requires that CoCs implement specific strategies to prevent the criminalization of homelessness and must work with law enforcement and the city to eliminate policies and practices that criminalize the homeless.”
The letter further states that “the City of Fresno’s Ordinance potentially jeopardizes the CoC’s HUD funding for permanent housing and supportive services.” It is unclear if the City has met with the FMCoC yet, however, it is clear that the City could lose millions of dollars in federal funding unless the new ordinance is abandoned.
Also ugly are the policies and practices of the Homeless Assistance Response Team (HART). On a daily basis, HART forces people to move (with nowhere to go) from their locations. On a daily basis, HART throws away the personal property, including basic survival gear, of unhoused human beings. On a daily basis, HART harasses, threatens and intimidates those unfortunate enough to live on the streets.
The mayor and the City Council support and praise HART. Arias recently said that he calls HART to remove unhoused residents from locations in his district on a regular basis. HART’s tactics have traumatized individuals, built further mistrust of the Fresno Police Department and solved nothing. In addition, millions of tax dollars are wasted on a cruel and fruitless policy.
In conclusion, over the past five years, millions of dollars have been spent locally and statewide billions of dollars have been spent. Most of these dollars were spent on temporary housing, shelters and services for the unhoused.
Shelter operators and homeless service providers dominate how dollars in California are allocated. They run the CoCs. There are 41 CoCs in California; the CoCs determine where the money goes, and there is an endless funding source. There is a large industry built from state and federal funding, and it has no interest in a Housing First approach and permanent housing solutions.
Little permanent housing was built with the $17.5 billion in funding. The amount of money allocated would provide for thousands of units of permanent housing to be built. Homelessness is rising with no end in sight. There is a lack of transparency and accountability from cities, counties and service providers about how these dollars are allocated and spent.