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(Photo by Paul Schlesinger/The Collegian)

Can the war on poverty be won?

Almost hundreds gathered in downtown Fresno for a discussion on how the city can win the war on poverty.

The discussion was hosted by Zocalo Public Square and The California Wellness Foundation at Frank’s Place inside the Warnors Center for Performing Arts.

Joe Moore, director of program content at KVPR-FM, Valley Public Radio, moderated the event, which included four panelists: Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Pete Weber, founder of Fresno Bridge Academy, Cruz Avila, executive director of Poverello House and Irma Olguin Jr., president of Edit LLC.

The goal of the forum was to raise awareness and educate the community on the issue of poverty in Fresno so people understand the problems that are going on around them and are aware of the dire needs of the homeless population.

Avila believes the first approach to fixing the problem is educating the public about what is going on, why it is going on and what the people can do to solve it.

“I think it is just trying to let folks understand the data behind homelessness and to enrich the community so they understand what is happening,” Avila said. “And not to be afraid to ask those dire questions that are going to help us get answers of what we need to do to really make sure our homeless population is taken care of.”

Above all else, Avila believes the way to fix the homeless problem is to inform others about the issues so they are aware.

“I think it wraps back up to the educational piece,” Avila said. “All of this is about educating folks. When I am walking off the stage, people are still asking questions and giving remarks and feedback and that is what it is all about. It is about having them understand what the true reality is of homelessness and to not be afraid to ask questions.”

Olguin said the forum did a great job of raising awareness about the issue of homelessness and it was important for representatives from small businesses, non-profits and government officials to share their ideas.

“Overall I think what we are doing is improving the lives of the homeless population,” Olguin said “There is obviously a lot of room for improvement, but a lot of the steps that we are taking have been in motion for decades and we are just now starting to see the fruits of that labor. So the message to Fresno people is don’t give up and keep marching forward.”

Olguin also said that a way to reduce poverty is to treat it as an issue that is affecting actual human beings and not look at homeless people as if they don’t matter.

“I hope we as a city can think of poverty not as an issue in the abstract, but we think of the humans and the people that are affected or struggling who have real heavy issues to deal with,” she said. “I think the way forward on stuff like this and the message here is these are people and they have issues and need help and we can help them.”

Gyanesh Lama, professor of social work at Fresno State, said that even though he didn’t hear many solutions or hear from people that are affected by poverty, he felt it was a great way to recognize that there is a problem with homelessness in Fresno.

“In the discussion, I did not see the people who are actually affected by this very problem,” Lama said. “I would have liked to have seen maybe a homeless person or maybe a poor person on the panel and see what they have to say about some of the problems. Nevertheless, I think they are trying to create some awareness and are trying to demonstrate that they are thinking about it and that they understand that there is a problem and there is a need for the whole community to come together and to address it.”