War on the Poor and Neo-Fascism 

War against the poor in Fresno. Photo by Bob McCloskey
War against the poor in Fresno. Photo by Bob McCloskey

To be homeless does not mean I don’t have feelings.

To be homeless does not mean I can’t feel how others treat me.

To be homeless does not make it okay to assume I am dirty.

To be homeless does not mean I do not have a voice.

To be homeless does not mean I am a drug addict.

To be homeless does not mean I want to be here now or in the future.

To be homeless does not mean I am not a person or human being.

To be homeless does not and will not define me as a person, not now, not…ever! Homelessness is not for the weak.

Most of us are only one paycheck away from being homeless and by homeless I mean living with family, at a shelter or, like some of us, on the street. It is not as far away as most people may want to think. It’s a loss of income and boom you’re there. If that doesn’t scare you or open your eyes, what else can? Thank you.

—Corina G.

Creeping Fascism and Homelessness 

A person with critical thinking skills can see that American capitalism is in decay. As it decays, fascism has taken root. These fascist trends are targeting unhoused people. 

People in America are rightfully fearful of a Trump-led authoritarian fascist regime. Some argue that the United States already has a fascist, albeit socially liberal, government, led by Joe Biden, with a veneer of democracy.

Most Americans understand that corporations and their lobbyists have major influence and control on both domestic and foreign policy. Some Americans believe our government is controlled by, and is a tool of, Wall Street and the corporate lobbies. This is often called corporatism.

Corporatism became one of the main tenets of fascism, and Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy advocated the total integration of divergent interests into the state for the corporate interests. As in all fascist regimes, the poor and unhoused suffered the most under Mussolini’s rule.

In Hitler’s fascist Germany, homeless people, beggars, vagrants, welfare recipients and, last but not least, “gypsies and people roaming about in the manner of gypsies” were all considered to be “anti-social elements.” They were the first to be rounded up and incarcerated.

In Franco’s fascist Spain, it was reported that “the poor live off acorns and chestnuts.”

Although unhoused people in America are not yet being placed in camps (Trump has recently floated the idea), they are criminalized, arrested for petty crimes and misdemeanors, and harrassed. They are often hungry and have a poor diet.

In our culture, unhoused people are considered “anti-social elements” by many. Recently, more harsh ordinances and practices have been implemented. Some are asking, is this a trend toward fascist rule?

Following the “no sit, no stand, no lie, no sleep” ordinances in Fresno and San Diego (see “Kill the Poor” in the July 2023 issue of the Community Alliance), similar legislation is being proposed for the same criminalization of the homeless statewide.

State Senate GOP leader Brian Jones of San Diego and State Senator Catherine Blakespear (D–Encinitas) have sponsored a bipartisan bill to ban homeless encampments near “sensitive community areas” in California as Fresno and San Diego have already done.

A War on the Poor 

A comprehensive 2023 UC San Francisco study on homelessness found that money, more than addiction, mental health, poor decisions or other factors, is the main cause of—and potential solution to—homelessness.

The UCSF study found that in the six months before becoming homeless, the Californians surveyed were making a median income of just $960 a month. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in California is nearly three times that, according to Zillow. And though survey participants listed a myriad of reasons why they lost their homes, more people cited a loss of, or reduction in, income than anything else.

According to a 2019 Urban Institute report, Fresno ranks No. 59 of 59 cities in California for economic inclusion and racial inclusion, making it a divided city.

Across the United States, Fresno ranks 253rd out of 274 cities on overall inclusion. It ranks 263rd on economic inclusion. Inclusion is defined by looking at income differences in poverty and wages by race and ethnicity, the number of working poor people, disparities in homeownership and the number of families that spend more than 35% of their income on rent.

Fresno City Council, leaders of a war against the poor in Fresno. Photo by Bob McCloskey
Fresno City Council, leaders of a war against the poor in Fresno. Photo by Bob McCloskey

Billions on Temporary Solutions 

California spent $17.5 billion trying to combat homelessness from 2018 to 2022. Another $3 billion has been allocated to fight homelessness through 2024. On Feb. 16, a press release from the City stated that “to date, the City of Fresno has received $137,880,079 of Homekey funding from the State of California. More than 3,000 people have been housed in motels purchased by the City.”

These motels are currently transitional housing, and most are going to be converted to low-income housing to be sold. Some are already in that process. In total, 13,500 units have been created with Project Homekey funds in California.

There is lack of transparency and accountability for the counties, cities, contractors and nonprofit and for-profit service providers receiving these public funds. With homelessness worsening, we must examine the system and shed some light on a longstanding, self-perpetuating, deeply entrenched industry. There’s little oversight and accountability for these state funds and how this money is spent.

All the agencies in California’s current system to address homelessness, including those governed by the 45 Continuums of Care (CoC), are participants in a system that, some say, perpetuates homelessness. Some advocates call it a nonprofit (with some for-profits) bureaucracy that exists to expand funding for needed but mostly temporary services.

Locally, the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care (FMCoC) has 51 members, including the City of Fresno, the County of Fresno and many service providers such as Turning Point of Central California.

The CEO of Turning Point makes $381,270 annually and the CFO makes $289,030 annually, an example of how some public dollars for homeless initiatives are going to nonprofit executive salaries. Turning Point is a major recipient of public dollars and one of only two shelter providers in Fresno.

This network of service providers and contractors, many of which are also recipients of state and federal funds, hold a lot of political influence.

A Lack of Affordable Housing 

The California Housing Partnership Corporation (CHPC) recently released its annual Affordable Housing Needs Report for all counties in the state. The 2023 report for Fresno County found that renters “need to earn $25.23 per hour—1.6 times the state minimum wage—to afford the average monthly asking rent of $1,312.”

It also found that “36,199 low-income renter households in Fresno County do not have access to an affordable home.” Moreover, 69% of apartments in Fresno County are at risk of becoming unaffordable for people making lower incomes. It’s the highest risk of any county in the state.

According to the report, Fresno County has nearly 17,000 homes at risk of becoming unaffordable for its 36,000 low-income renters. The study specifically looked at apartments in buildings with at least five units. We need rent control in Fresno.

The Fresno Housing Authority opened its housing choice voucher wait-list in June—a key affordability program for lower-income tenants—and more than 10,000 applied after just the first day.

Rents have been increasing in Fresno since the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Fresno’s rental vacancy rate—a measure of the number of empty homes—has steadily declined since 2010, according to a CHPC analysis.

Fresno has a vacancy rate of 4.5% from a total of 176,617 units, meaning there are 3,925 vacant units. This number is almost as great as the number of persons labeled “homeless” in the city. The argument that “we simply do not have enough existing housing” should be examined more closely.

Real Solutions, Housing First and Social Housing 

Real solutions require an end to criminalizing unhoused people, adopting a true Housing First approach, building social housing though a public works program and providing ongoing support services as-needed.

New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, recently California and some other states are implementing a Housing First approach and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is now requiring it. The Housing First approach views housing as the foundation for life improvement and enables access to permanent housing without prerequisites or conditions beyond those of a typical renter.

A Housing First model provides supportive services to those that need them. The approach saves public dollars in the long term (hospital costs, incarceration costs, police enforcement costs and more). Finland, Spain and other European countries have been successful at implementing the Housing First strategy.

Social Housing

The term social housing is commonly used to describe a range of housing ownership, subsidy and regulation models in Europe, South America and other parts of the world. These models often go far beyond what’s known as “affordable housing” in the United States to promote permanent affordability, democratic resident control and social equality. They are built, owned and managed by government agencies.

If adopted in the United States, billions would be saved by eliminating developers and speculators from using public dollars to reap profits.

In conclusion, cities and counties must immediately stop criminalizing the unhoused, thus ending the slide toward fascism. Housing First, social housing and humane treatment is the way forward. “People before profits” and “Housing is a right” are themes we must organize by.

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