City Hall finally putting muscle behind homelessness rhetoric

After 10 months, the business model of Fresno’s homelessness program is failing. George Hostetter finds out why.


“The truth of the matter is none of us, regardless of how much work we do, can change somebody’s mind,” Dewey told the City Council on Dec. 17. “Either they’re going to accept help or they’re not.”


In other words, human nature happened.

The homeless problem, the drifter problem, the hobo problem, the vagrant problem, the hustler problem – it’s going to be with Fresno forever. Human beings aren’t perfectible.

But, Dewey made clear to the council, progress is possible.

“What we’re seeing is that if there’s constant follow-up from one individual rather than 15 different people, we’re more inclined to get that person to trust us, to get that person off the street and into some type of help,” Dewey said.

Based on the Dec. 17 comments made by Dewey and the Pov’s Avila, and my recent interviews with City Manager Rudd and Dewey, the MAP Point/Homeless Task Force issue came to a head like this:

  • MAP Point’s staff is small, perhaps three workers, and just one is a homeless case manager.
  • MAP Point’s hours are largely 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
  • The homeless don’t operate on banker’s hours.
  • Dewey’s task force officers are cops first, social workers second.
  • The homeless – perhaps addicted to drugs, perhaps mentally ill, perhaps fresh out of prison, perhaps simply broke and broken – don’t always cotton to a cop coming up to them and asking a bunch of questions.
  • Dewey-Avila experiments in the field – Dewey starting things as the voice of authority, Avila coming in as the friendly voice of sympathy and help – had some success.
  • Consistency and persistence count for much when outsiders try to build a rapport with the homeless.
  • Why not hire seven case managers, get them into the field (sometimes with Dewey’s task force, sometimes on their own) and insist they operate in part during non-traditional working hours?
  • A squad of case managers means each has a much smaller workload than a lonely worker back in that trailer by the Pov, thus providing more and better service to each homeless client.

“Unfortunately, (homelessness) is one of those problems that, the more we peel the onion, the more problems we find,” Dewey told council members. “This is the next step – trying something different.”

The $520,000 is part of a $7.9 million mid-year spending plan. After years of bad luck in the budgetary arena, City Hall discovered it had a bigger than expected pot of unspent money from last year.

A staff report said the money would “provide for additional outreach workers who will target Blackstone Avenue, recycling center sites and other locations that are beginning to experience a higher presence of homeless individuals.”

  1. What about addressing private efforts to assist homeless people like the Eco Village Project’s Dakota EcoGarden, and our mission to build a village like the ones in Oregon, Washington, Texas, New Mexico, etc. How about the merits of the city joining forces for a public/private coalition to respond to the homeless problem? The city turns a blind eye to private resources like the Dakota EcoGarden and won’t put any skin in the game. You know, the city doesn’t a lock on answers to the problem. Brainstorming with dedicated groups who have put their money, blood, sweat, and tears into helping homeless people might be just what the city needs to refine its perspective and come up with a diffrent or modified game plan.

  2. There’s a huge disconnect here. What happened to the 1300 who visited MapPoint?. I personally know many, including mentally ill folks, who have not been helped with housing. So how does it help to put more staff at map point? Someone needs to get on the job of actually finding or making the housing happen. One point that needs to be acknowledged is that homeless folks may refuse housing that they see as being in the middle of drug infested neighborhoods and/or housing that requires them to get rid of beloved pets.

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