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.


So, I decided to walk the length of Blackstone Avenue to see what Swearengin, Rudd, Dewey, Avila and council members are talking about.


I started at City Hall at 6:52 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9. My plan was to hike a bit in downtown, catch the start of Blackstone at Divisadero Street and finish things at California Pizza Kitchen on the southwest corner of Blackstone and Nees Avenue, in the River Park area.

I had $10 in my wallet (but no credit cards). I carried an umbrella and a flashlight. I had a mini-tape recorder to capture my thoughts.

I was looking for the homeless. I was also checking on the overall health of Blackstone. The two are connected in Swearengin’s vision for Fresno.

It was dark when my son dropped me off at the bus stop on Tulare Street, between City Hall and the Santa Fe Depot.

I headed south on P Street, passed my first homeless person standing on the sidewalk opposite the Federal Courthouse, turned west on Ventura Avenue and went to the Convention Center.

Things were hopping at Selland Arena and the Saroyan Theatre. I couldn’t tell the nature of the events. But nicely dressed people were everywhere.

A good start.

I stayed on M Street until turning left on Kern Street. I didn’t stay on Kern for long.

“I’m on Van Ness, heading toward Inyo,” I said into my recorder. “I’m passing The Californian and coming up on Joe’s Steakhouse. And you know what? It’s open. The lights are on. Joe’s Steakhouse and Grill. A customer just left. The place looks very nice. I wish them well. But across the street is that sports bar that has had several incarnations and has never succeeded.”

I wandered some, then headed north on Fulton Street, toward the mall.

“As I head up Fulton toward Inyo, there, on the sidewalk on the east side, I see a large tent – a four-person tent just pitched on the sidewalk. Two shopping carts, other stuff to the side, a dog there under some blankets watching me go by. Somebody’s camped out, right across the street from the Tioga-Sequoia beer garden.”

I counted a dozen people enjoying themselves in the beer garden.

“I’m now heading down Fulton Mall from Inyo, passing the old Gottschalks building. Gottschalks – my old employer. The mall is actually lit up. With the light rain we had, everything is pretty and cool. But no one is here.”

I looked at my cell phone – 7:22.

“I’m going by the playground in front of what used to be Woolworth’s. There’s a woman with a shopping cart, chock full of her possessions. I don’t know if she’s homeless or what. Is she waiting for someone? Looks like she’s in her 30s or 40s.”

I crossed Tulare to the mall’s middle section.

“Not much happening in the Bank of Italy building. All those years ago – the press conference with Tom Richards (the building’s owner) and the Mayor. The place still has that big red sign with white X on it. Stay away.”

There’s only one nighttime spot of note on the northern part of the mall.

“Peeves has about 20 people – and more showing up. Looks like they’re getting ready for some live music. Peeve’s – ready for action.”

I crossed Tuolumne Street, heading north past Warnor’s Theatre. The marquee said “Believe In Downtown.” I do. Downtown was clean and impressive despite the relative absence of people. It seems like the Fulton Corridor just needs a couple of breaks, two or three pioneer projects of significant size, to regain its life.

I meandered in Uptown for a while, then returned to Tuolumne and headed toward P Street. I turned left on P, crossed Abby Street and headed toward Dickey Playground. The start of Blackstone beckoned.

“Dickey Playground. Lots of lights. No people.”

  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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