Mayor Swearengin Announces Community-Wide Initiative to End Cycle of Homelessness in Fresno
05/27/2010

Saying that every City resident can be a part of ending and preventing homelessness in Fresno, Mayor Ashley Swearengin today announced the launch of Fresno First Steps Home, a comprehensive, community-wide initiative to address homelessness in our community.

Mayor Swearengin set a goal of raising $1 million a year in private donations to be used for Fresno First Steps Home, a City-sponsored nonprofit that will raise funds through individual donations, local businesses and grants. In turn, the funds raised will be granted to area nonprofits and public service providers who are working to implement Fresno’s 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. Those organizations include the Fresno Housing Authorities, the Marjaree Mason Center, WestCare, the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission, the Poverello House and the Angels of Grace.

“As a city, we should expect to make reductions in the number of people living on our streets,” Mayor Swearengin said. “Doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing is costing the public an estimated $80 million per year in unpaid medical bills, emergency room visits, public safety calls and other public services. Everyone can help. Everyone can be a part of ending and preventing homelessness in Fresno.”

Mayor Swearengin asked each City resident to donate $1 per month to the effort, which would put the initiative far above its funding goal.

“Many of our residents probably give a dollar to a homeless person on a street corner about once a month,” Mayor Swearengin said. “Instead of doing that, consider giving that dollar to a community-wide effort where you know the dollars are going to be used to provide services to our homeless population to help get them permanently off the streets.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the initiative should visit www.FresnoFirstStepsHome.org and sign up to make a monthly donation.

Mayor Swearengin said the Fresno First Steps Home plan is based on lessons learned from the City’s efforts in the past year in moving people from Fresno’s largest encampment, H Street, and the Storyland Motel on Motel Drive into appropriate transitional housing. Seven months after the effort to close H Street, 80% of the people who were moved into housing remain off the streets and are well on their way to independence and self-sufficiency.

Fresno First Steps Home will coordinate a “housing-first” model that is aimed at connecting participants with an umbrella of services, including substance abuse and mental-health programs, healthcare, benefits acquisition and medical treatment.

“It’s pretty tough for homeless people to enroll in a job training program or get a job interview because they don’t have a permanent residence,” Mayor Swearengin said. “That’s why housing makes all the difference. If you can get people off the streets and into housing, it’s much easier for them to deal with the issues in their lives that led to their homelessness in the first place.”

The “housing first” approach involves five steps to independence:

· Outreach – Case managers trained in street outreach and serving the homeless population reach out to homeless individuals to begin the process.

· Assessment – Case managers assess the needs of each individual, including health concerns, family background, criminal history and education. This provides a snapshot for future planning and support.

· Housing – Case managers find transitional housing for the individuals at reduced rates, as long as clients show measurable progress in the program for up to 18 months.

· Action Plan – Case managers create an action plan that puts individuals on a path to self-sufficiency. This plan is monitored and evaluated on a regular basis.

· Monitoring and support – Using the action plan, case managers track the progress of individuals and provide support services as needed.

Mayor Swearengin said that providing the homeless with services makes economic sense for Fresno. A recently completed cost analysis of chronic homelessness in Fresno estimates that housing one chronically homeless person saves $11,872 per person per year in public funds.

Mayor Swearengin also said that as a public/private partnership, Fresno First Steps Home’s structure allows government funding to go farther and increases the options for financial support – from donations to grants and other government assistance.

Fresno First Steps Home will be guided by a seven-member board of directors.

For more information on the initiative, please visit www.FresnoFirstStepsHome.org