An average day for many students consists of attending class, juggling work responsibilities and coming home to air-conditioning and a soft bed. Student life can be demanding and stressful, but for many in Fresno, simply getting enough food, finding a place to sleep and surviving the day are the only things they can afford to be concerned with.
The streets of downtown Fresno are painted with the faces of the lonely that wander aimlessly with no destination in mind. The homeless population occupies the curbs and they walk up and down the railroad tracks, sometimes finding comfort within a makeshift tent underneath the freeways.
This way of life has become common because the amount of homelessness in the area is high.
According to the annual Point in Time Survey that was conducted in January 2010, there are 3,762 homeless people in Fresno. There were 2,092 homeless people that were visible on the street during the count and another 1,670 people sheltered in emergency and transitional housing.
Gregory Barfield, Homeless Prevention and Policy Manager for the city of Fresno, said the city has a strategy to help alleviate the issue.
Barfield said the community has adopted a 10-year plan to help prevent and end homelessness.
“It was approved in September 2008 and it’s our road map for addressing gaps in services, providing housing, and then wrapping services around a person,” Barfield said. “We will then collect data that will better inform us on how we’re doing.”
Barfield said the major issue continues to be a fragile safety need for people experiencing short-term issues that eventually result in the ultimate breaking point—losing their homes, their families breaking apart and having to find shelter in tents on a plot of dirt.
Deputy Director of Administration at the Poverello House in Fresno, Doreen Eley, said she has seen a significant increase in the amount of homeless people around the streets of downtown Fresno.
“Every other year the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a count of the amount of homeless people in Fresno, but it’s difficult to pinpoint every single person,” Eley said. “The records don’t account for those we were unable to find, and those who are doubling up in their living spaces.”
The number of people living on the streets of Fresno is near the equivalent of two average high schools in Fresno. That’s 3,000–plus people cluttering the city’s streets, many of them in downtown Fresno, trying to make it through the day just hoping to survive the night with no bed to sleep on, no kitchen to cook in and no shower to bathe in.
Although Eley said the Poverello House provides as much aid as possible, she knows they can’t help everyone who is without a home.
“It’s definitely an issue we’re dealing with in Fresno, but thankfully we’re not having any problems with overcrowding in the shelters.”
Homelessness in Fresno is an issue that too often goes unnoticed. It is an adverse matter that desperately requires attention—not only for the sake of the individuals living in it, but also for the sake of the community as a whole.
Individuals can at least find solace in knowing the shelters in Fresno are successfully providing a stepping stone to a new life.
Director of Community Care at the Fresno Rescue Mission, Jim Classen, said his shelter has conveniently provided assistance to those who need it most.
“We haven’t had any issues with overcrowding at all since I’ve been here,” Classen said. “They come to us for help, and are typically out fairly quickly.”
Classen said one-fourth of the men who stay at the Fresno Rescue Mission within the year only stay one night. Three-fourths of the men stay 30 days or less, and one-half of the men stay just seven days.
“We normally see 77 to 78 men a night,” Classen said.
Although the number of homeless people roaming the streets of Fresno is high, there are means to assist all of them.
The Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission is another option for those in need that provides a safe place for youths and adults to come.
Deputy Director of Administration at the Poverello House, Doreen Eley, said her shelter offers extensive aid for the homeless, and although she knows it’s not the answer to the problem, it is a temporary fix.
“We have established tough sheds that we’ve provided in the Village of Hope that provide temporary shelter to them,” Eley said.
The “Shantytown” houses 66 individuals and accommodates them with a place to sleep given its hours of operation, 4 p.m. – 6 a.m.
Eley also encourages people to take advantage of Naomi’s House, a home that provides overnight shelter for homeless women. Since October 2002, Naomi’s house has provided shelter 365 days a year while providing other needs including hot meals, medical and dental care and day shelter.
The homeless in Fresno are most noticeable on the streets downtown, and Eley believes they purposefully stay within the area for a reason.
“A lot of the public services are downtown,” Eley said. “So I think they like to be near the places that could assist them in a time of need. Not to mention, downtown turns into a ghost town after 5 p.m., but I think they like it where they are and being near the shelters.”
More to come in this Friday’s issue