Fresno homeless population increases, no shelter available for most

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Private charities hope to fill the void as a new survey shows Fresno's homeless situation is getting worse.

"It's imperative that we act individually to support our city's fight to end homelessness," said Anna Hecker of Wings Advocacy Fresno.

Council member Steve Brandau announced a plan Tuesday to fight the city's homeless problem by making outdoor camping illegal.

On Wednesday, city leaders took a softer approach to the issue while announcing a 19-percent increase in the homeless population over the numbers from 2016

Every face in the crowd gathered on G St. near Ventura in downtown Fresno has a story to tell: an ugly breakup, mental illness, a drug habit, a lost job. Almost none of them involve choosing to be here.

"Why am I out here?" asked Kelly Irby rhetorically. "Because I'm homeless and I have no other place to go."

Irby says he can't find any shelter space, so he lives here on the street, and a new federal study shows 1572 people like him in Fresno now.

The number's been on the rise for a couple years, but homeless advocates say it's not bad as it may seem.

"They were primarily concentrated down near the (Fresno Rescue) Mission and the Poverello, and now they're more widely spread out in the community," said Shawn Jenkins of the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care. "So while we have had an increase, it's probably not as large of an increase as the public thinks it is."

The homeless population is also way down from the recession years. But even as the economy turned around, the number of places for homeless people to find a roof over their heads even temporarily hasn't expanded to keep up. Mayor Lee Brand endorsed a plan to outlaw public camping Tuesday.

On Wednesday, he stood with homeless advocates who say there's no shelter available for 1351 of those homeless people in Fresno.

"If there are 1351 people out there with nowhere to live, how does that jive with a "no camping" ordinance?" an Action News reporter asked the mayor.

"That's our challenge," Brand responded. "This is not just local. Statewide there's a housing shortage everywhere. It's extremely expensive to build affordable housing. And we're trying to work on that problem. And the other ordinance was very narrow in its scope. It wasn't meant to be, obviously you could do a sweep and move one person from one corner to the other, it's only set to be in egregious situations and very sparingly."

One unintended consequence of the ordinance could be that it drives homeless people to hide in vacant homes.

Fresno's Fire Chief says about 10-percent of the city's fires already involve homes where nobody's supposed to live.

"Obviously we're going to have to keep a close eye on how it might affect our responses to these emergencies," said Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis. "It could ramp up."

These people say they didn't choose to live on the streets of downtown Fresno, but being forced to leave would be even worse.
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