Homelessness decreases in Fresno and surrounding areas, says mayor

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- City officials are releasing new figures on the number of people living on the streets in Fresno and surrounding areas.

"For Fresno's homeless, about 63% of them are sleeping in the street on the sidewalk, or someplace that's not meant for human habitation," Mayor Swearengin said.

That may not be a number Swearengin is proud of, but she does take pride in what she calls a dramatic decrease in how many people are now sleeping on the streets.

The 2015 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report, called Point in Time, shows a 37% decrease in the number of unsheltered homeless people in Fresno and surrounding areas from 2014, and a 53% decrease since 2013 (1,183 total unsheltered in 2015, 1,883 in 2014, and 2,537 in 2013).

"Over time we developed a model to make sure those people were receiving access to services, to housing and we've seen so many success stories of making comebacks in their lives, now those encampments are gone," Swearengin said.

And the fact that the city's homeless encampments are now gone is one of the reasons homeless advocate Mike Rhodes has a problem with the new numbers.

"Their counts are flawed, the methodology is flawed in their counts," Rhodes said.

Rhodes says the city is taking credit for lowering homelessness, when in fact, he says, they're chasing and dispersing the homeless population. He says that means many homeless people are no longer being counted.

"And they have less of an accurate count now because they've dispersed all of the homeless people who used to be gathered downtown in homeless encampments, now they're hidden away in nooks and crannies all over town they can't get to them all," Rhodes said.

"The city of Fresno uses the national best practices model for counting our homeless population every year-it's called the Point in Time study. "So we are in one day's period of time, we cover the entire city and find every homeless person under every bridge, every nook and cranny, that is the way we put our Point in Time survey together and those are the numbers we are reporting on," Swearengin said.

The director of Fresno Madera Continuum of Care, Jody Ketcheside, is in charge of the count. She tells Action News even though there were more volunteers this year, there was still a decrease in the homeless population.

During the count in late January, she says the 200 volunteers searched abandoned buildings, in dumpsters, and even found a homeless person under a house.

Rhodes says he's less interested in the validity of the homeless count as he is solving homelessness. If there's any common ground, it's that the mayor does too.

By the end of this year, Mayor Swearengin says to expect to an end to homelessness among veterans, and by the end of next year, the mayor says to expect an end to all chronic homelessness.

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