Making headway in the drive to help Fresno's homeless

FRESNO, Calif.

61-year-old Lonnie Fuller lives in a tent in Downtown Fresno. He is one of thousands of homeless across Fresno County. Lonnie was asked if he thought things would fall into place for him if he had a place to live.

Fuller said, "Yes it would ... then I would receive benefits from SSI ... I could get things going."

Fuller could one day have an address not far from where he's camping out. A vacant piece of property on G Street near the Poverello House will be home to a brand new facility for the homeless ... a three story building with 71 units ... one third of which will be set aside for the severely mentally ill.

The other two properties are not far away. One on Trinity Street in West Fresno once served as a convent. It's now vacant and boarded up, but the Fresno Housing Authority plans to renovate the entire property creating twenty one-bedroom apartments. The third property on Blackstone near Divisadero was originally a motel. More recently it was used by Fresno County's Department of Behavioral Health.

Fresno Housing Authority Executive Director Preston Prince says the facility will get a facelift inside and out. Once complete, it will offer 27 units for the homeless mentally ill.

Prince said, "There's a pretty high percentage of chronically homeless individuals who have either severe mental illness or some form of mental illness ... so within the population of homeless ... this is a pretty important group."

Prince says it's been tough getting funding for the projects ... much of the money has come from the mental health services act ... or what some call the millionaire tax. But these three projects are only the beginning ... Prince says the housing authority is looking to develop 100 to 200 apartments a year ... creating up to one thousand units over the next five years.

Creating permanent housing for the homeless is the idea behind Fresno's First Steps Home program. Two weeks ago Mayor Ashley Swearingen challenged Fresno residents to give a buck a month to help end chronic homelessness in the city. Since then more than $65 hundred in checks has come in ... plus 72 people have pledged anywhere from a dollar to $60.00 a month.

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