July 15, 2019

By George Hostetter

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors recently adopted a list of “Homelessness Priorities” for calendar year 2019.

The list was developed in collaboration with the county’s 15 incorporated cities plus officials in the county’s Departments of Behavioral Health, Public Health and Social Services.

The 14 priorities are:

1. Address jurisdictional overlaps (local, State, Federal, and private) collaboratively.

2. Increase transportation to outpatient programs and regular prenatal/medical care for pregnant and parenting women and children who are homeless.

3. Roving formalized coordinated community outreach and in conjunction with law enforcement, through Fresno Madera Continuum of Care or otherwise, to ensure that efforts are aligned and data is tracked.

4. Assistance to build housing stock, increasing safe overnight housing (24-48 hours), and a centralized approach to single room occupancy units.

5. Priority access to emergency housing for pregnant and parenting women and their children also families with children with significant medical issues as it is difficult to manage the continuum of care when the family is homeless).

6. Real time accurate number of shelter beds available and increase the number of non-faith based shelters.

7. Additional “wet” shelters that do not require the person to participate in a program, person can be high or drunk to use the facility and not be turned away.

8. Education regarding available services and shareable system to track linkages.

9. Improved data on the homeless such as length of homelessness (acute vs. chronic), cause of the homelessness, is it a family, individual, minor without family support.

10. A formalized assessment of housing and shelter needs in rural communities.

11. Strong centralized structure for homeless funding and service decisions and expanded distribution of funding opportunities.

12. Comprehensive case management for homeless clients and improved access to primary healthcare and medication for chronic diseases; perhaps partnering with Federally Qualified Health Clinic or UC San Francisco.

13. Increased substance use disorder services and mental health services throughout county.

14. Enforce ordinances that address hazardous or unsanitary conditions, which constitute fire, health, and/or safety risks.

According to a Fresno County news release, “[these] priorities will address jurisdictional boundaries, transportation, outreach, housing, data collection, direct services, and the preservation of public health and public safety.  The priorities, which are not in priority order, are intended to be a comprehensive list and a living document, updated as necessary based on data-driven outcomes or at least once a calendar year.”

The Fresno Council of Governments’ Policy Advisory Committee on July 12 gave its approval to the list. The Committee is recommending that COG’s Policy Board formally approve the list.

One of the local challenges is acquiring the authority to implement these 14 priorities.

Homelessness is a major policy challenge throughout America, but particularly in big cities. Fresno, with more than 500,000 people, is the nation’s 34th largest city.

Steven Malanga, a writer for New York City-based Manhattan Institute, wrote a piece for City Journal titled “Courting Homelessness.” Malanga’s brief but superb story tells of the efforts of Boise City Hall leaders to clean up homeless camp sites located on public property.

Boise’s big problem: Rulings from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that prevent such action.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals covers nine Western states, including California.

The essence of the Ninth Circuit’s thinking, Malanga writes, “is the liberal thesis that homelessness is an economic problem driven by high housing costs. Several homeless people sued Boise in 2009, alleging that the city did not have the right to remove them from the streets when they had no other housing option.”

Boise was deemed to be “criminalizing” homelessness. The Ninth Circuit, Malanga writes, “essentially accepted the argument that enforcement actions against the homeless plaintiffs constituted cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

Malanga goes on to show that the homeless problem is much more than an economic problem. Many of the street homeless are addicted to alcohol and drugs. Many have no desire to partake of free health services and shelter beds. Many have serious mental health issues.

Several Ninth Circuit rulings, Malanga writes, “have had a chilling effect on municipal attempts to curb street encampments.” This, in turn, puts extraordinary and potentially ruinous burdens on any City Hall. The municipality’s choice: Put up with ever-growing street encampments or make huge investments with scarce taxpayer dollars in homelessness services.

Malanga writes that Boise officials are trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their side of the story.

Malanga writes: “While a favorable ruling would bolster the efforts of Boise and other cities trying to address the problem, it wouldn’t change anything in cities where the political establishment is aligned with the Ninth Circuit on homelessness issues…. These places have become magnets for homeless people, attracting those who want to live a street life unencumbered by enforcement.”

Fresno City Hall in the last six months has taken a sharp turn in a “progressive” direction. This is especially true of the City Council.

It remains to be seen what this means for Fresno’s homelessness policy.

To view the full article, visit http://sjvsun.com/news/fresno/fresno-county-lays-out-its-priorities-to-combat-homelessness-will-the-courts-stop-it/