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Coronavirus forced creative solutions for Valley’s homeless crisis. It’s time to double down.

Op-Ed submitted by Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig and Homeless Liaison Sonia De La Rosa

The nationwide homeless crisis has existed in Fresno County for many years and only worsened throughout the pandemic.

To effectively address homelessness community-wide, both in the metropolitan  and rural communities, partnerships between local governments and community-based organizations must continue.

Without these partnerships, the political will that galvanized the COVID-19 response and directed our homeless community into housing and support services will fizzle.

It was this collaboration  and funding alignment that brought over 200 households – or more than 400 individuals – into housing within  weeks during the pandemic, many for the first time, yet there is much more to be done.  

Prior to 2018, homelessness in our community was being managed with resources provided through the  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The HUD Continuum of Care Program provides funding for efforts by nonprofit providers and state and local agencies to quickly rehouse  homeless individuals and families. Annually, the Fresno-Madera Continuum of Care receives about $10 million to maintain and add limited permanent and transitional housing, supportive services, and homelessness prevention. In addition to that funding, the County of Fresno and City of Fresno receive  limited direct funding for homeless-related matters.  

In 2018, the State, through the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), provided a one-time allocation  of $12.6 million to the City of Fresno ($3.1M) and Continuum of Care ($9.5M) to be expended by June 30,  2021. This funding established 90-day housing and navigation services in the metropolitan area of the  County of Fresno. This marked the first time the region received funding to address homelessness outside  of the HUD allocation.  

In 2019, the County of Fresno spearheaded the adoption of community-wide homelessness priorities. The priorities include outreach teams engaging and offering services to individuals regardless of their location and jurisdictional area (city, county, state, or special district). The services offered include transportation,  food, housing, and enrollment in health and public assistance. Other priorities included gathering information about the unique needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in our community.  

In 2019, the State once again provided the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) Grant  Program as a one-time regional allocation of $11.9 million to the City of Fresno ($6.2M), Continuum of  Care ($3M), County of Fresno ($2.3M) and County of Madera ($0.4M), all of which combined to sustain the HEAP housing and navigation services beyond June 2021. The same was done in 2020, when the State, through HHAP Round Two5, allocated $5.5 million to the City of Fresno ($2.9M), Continuum of Care  ($1.4M), County of Fresno ($1M) and County of Madera ($0.2M). The services provided with these funds  will end in 2024.  

During the pandemic, a diverse, regional, and multi-pronged team (County of Fresno departments, all  hospitals and federally qualified health clinics, and all shelter and service providers) brought single individuals and families into housing and expanded the services to our homeless population, using a one time influx of emergency state and federal funding. The County’s departmental services were the  springboard to this team. 

Through the Departments of Behavioral Health, Public Health and Social Services, the County of Fresno has provided screening for communicable diseases, short-term and/or emergency shelter housing, rental  assistance, and support to keep individuals housed with case management. To succeed, any program  implemented to help our homeless population must be done in collaboration with these departments. 

Recently, the City of Fresno, along with Caltrans and local outreach teams, relocated over 300 individuals  from dangerous embankments to newly acquired and/or recently vacated emergency beds.

However, these individuals entered an already impacted system of services within the County and are now pending  placement into permanent housing options. Individuals that agreed to housing are now being assessed,  provided support, and matched to housing; however, without more options, individuals will be unable to  transition from the emergency beds.  

The regional partnership (County of Fresno, Fresno Madera Continuum of Care, cities and service  providers) is exploring various projects that will provide longer-term housing options, including tiny  homes, independent living, and repurposing the State-deployed travel trailers, to name a few.

To effectively address homelessness community-wide, partnerships between local governments and  community-based organizations must continue so that with aligned strategies, we will bring in many more  households and prevent others from entering homelessness—one agency cannot do this alone.

Nathan Magsig is the Chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. He represents the communities of Clovis, Sunnyside, Sanger, Squaw Valley, and Huntington Lake.