by Tom Sims
Last December, a group gathered downtown to read the names of and remember fifty-six identified individuals who had died homeless in Fresno between January and November 2021. The service included readings, short messages, and music from a variety of religious traditions.
I thought of a friend who used to visit me at my church office/coffeeshop/bookstore. I came to trust him so much that I would leave him with the store and the cash register when I needed to run errands. Every time he came, he wanted some Bibles to give away. He had been homeless for years, but he was always thinking of others. He was hard core, not suited for any programs. Nor did he ever ask me for anything for himself. He even tried to pay for his coffee.
Since 1990, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has spearheaded a solemn annual tradition: Commemoration of each homeless person who died in the respective city during the preceding year. The commemoration takes place on the shortest day of the year, December 21. The event is planned again for this year on National Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day, December 21. You can find more information on the Facebook event page.
Meanwhile, Fresno’s homeless people are dying from natural and unnatural causes. On Monday, October 17, 2022, shortly after 4:30 p.m., Fresno Police were dispatched to Santa Clara Street and G Street. When officers arrived they found sixty-one-year-old Billy Cleveland Carrow suffering from an apparent stab wound. Paramedics pronounced the victim dead on the scene.
This was the forty-ninth murder of the year. It was not a statistic. It was a human tragedy. Billy was someone’s loved one.
How many homeless people reside in Fresno?
One estimate is that that Fresno has 216 homeless per 100,000 residents, 18th in the nation in per capita. The Point-In-Time survey says that there are 4,216 persons in 2022 identified as experiencing homelessness in Fresno and Madera Counties of which 2,338 were unsheltered on July 15, 2022.
Dr. Paul A. Toro, Professor of Psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit, believes that such surveys, conducted at night, only account for about one-quarter of the real numbers. He and his Research Group on Homelessness and Poverty have conducted a wide range of studies on homelessness over the past thirty years. Since its inception, Dr. Toro has been a member of the Research Council of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Paul Thomas Jackson, Secretary and convener of Fresno Homeless Advocates which sponsors the annual memorial, makes this statement alerted me to this assessment from Gerry Bill.
Gerry Bill, professor emeritus in American Studies at Fresno City College and board member of the Fresno Free College Foundation, Peace Fresno and the Fresno Center for Nonviolence as well as co-chair of the Central California Criminal Justice Committee, longtime social justice activist in Fresno and co-founder of and helped establish the Eco Village Project of Fresno stated:
“This is all based on a seriously flawed method of counting homeless—the annual point-in-time (PIT) count, which is done every January. As flawed as it is, the count is the only official number we have to go by. It is a serious undercount, and the actual numbers are probably at least four times higher than the PIT count…”
Jackson summed it up by saying, “If using another statutory definition that relates to federal funding of education, the definition of homelessness embraces a much larger population. Thus, it would be possible to say the number is over 10,000 and likely less than 30,000.”
Recently retired member of Mayor Jerry Dyer’s inner circle, H. Spees, was charged with the city’s response for four years and sought to build coalitions and a unified strategy. According to the city website, Fresno’s engagement can be described as:
• Emergency Solutions Grants – The City works with the Fresno County to jointly issue a Request for Proposals (RFP).
• HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) Program – In an effort to provide ‘housing-first’ opportunities for the unsheltered population, the City of Fresno recently approved $1 million in HOME Investment Partnerships Program funds to be directed to the Fresno Housing Authority for the formation of a local Tenant Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program.
• Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) – The City makes available CHDO funds for affordable housing projects which may include the creation of single room occupancy housing.
One recent Public/Private collaboration is the transformation of a motel on Blackstone into Crossroads Village with 165 permanent housing units for the homeless rhcommunitybuilders.com/crossroads-village-1.
In the meantime, one proof of the ongoing crisis is the fact that homeless people are continuing to die of the streets of Fresno.
They are homeless for a wide range of reasons from economic downturns to life crises to mental illness to addiction. No one set of criteria can describe them all. As Zack Darrah, CEO of Poverello House passionately challenged us at last year’s memorial, “We have to do better.” H. Spees echoed that sentiment.
Those who have walked alongside these neighbors with open hearts and listening ears have all heard heartbreaking stories. They have also encountered resilient, caring, and valuable human beings. Each life lost is a person who is irreplaceable.
In a recent Facebook post, one of the organizers of this year’s event, Caryn Kochergen, spoke of the “invisible people” in our community and said, “Love opens our eyes to invisible people.”
Times of memorial, when names are read and individuals are called out, one by one, trigger our sense of the reality and tragedy of this issue. Indeed, it is more than an issue; it is a story made up of countless stories of real people with real lives and real histories. Sometimes, it is easier to forget them.
National Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day is December 21, 2022. It removes the sheet of invisibility and forces us to look at homelessness in the face. Not just the face, but to look in the faces of people whose names are slowly read, people we have lost in the previous year.
Helping to coordinate this year’s event with Paul Thomas Jackson, secretary of Fresno Homeless Advocates are Caryn Kochergen and Mimi Fanucchi,
Jackson has said, “National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day takes place each year on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice (usually December 21st). 2020 marked the 30th Annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. While we remember those we have lost this year, we cannot let this be the start of another thirty years of growing homelessness.”
Fresno Homeless Advocates do not solicit donations, endorse candidates, or engage in partisan political debates. It does not seek to replace those groups who offer direct services or implement policies at the government level. The advocates, as a trans-partisan, non-profit, communitarian group has addressed a number of issues such as the demolition of an encampments, which it says, “disrupts the lives of the occupants and exposes them to physical and psychological dangers even greater than their unsheltered status, which is already far below minimal standards of health and safety.”
Paul Thomas Jackson points out that “Fresno, California, is Homeless Hotspot #3 in the country…. Arguably, Fresno’s crisis is the country’s worst, since more people within our local homeless population lack shelter than do any other U.S. cities. That is to say, at least 88% of homeless Fresnans are unsheltered; no more than 12% are sheltered. They are working for a ‘home-full community.’ This is the object of our association, the thing we ultimately desire, our final desideratum.”
For more information on the groups activities, advocacy, and discussions, please visit Fresno Homeless Advocates | Facebook. Details about the memorial location will be posted on that page. You can also receive updates by signing up for them at: pastortomsims.typepad.com/the_dream_factory/community-updates.html.
In the meantime:
According to Brandi Angela of Fresno Homeless Advocates, Fresno’s Warming Centers will be open for the winter and include:
1. Maxie L Parks, 1802 E California Ave, Fresno, CA 93706
2. Mosqueda Communty Center, 4670 E Butler Ave, Fresno, CA 93702
3. Pinedale Community Center, 7170 N San Pablo Ave, Pinedale, CA 93650
4. Ted C Wills, 770 N San Pablo Ave, Fresno, CA 93728
Fresno Area Express offers free bus rides to the warming centers as long as the buses are operating.
Groups That Serve the Homeless and Need Your Support:
POVERELLO HOUSE poverellohouse.org
“Believing in the dignity of every person, at Poverello House we work to enrich the lives and spirits of all who pass our way by stewarding the resources made available to us through providential and community support.”
“From January 2022 to August 2022, Poverello House provided over 30,000 nights of shelter through the Village of Hope and Naomi’s House.”
SANCTUARY TRANSITIONAL SHELTER
Fresno EOC Sanctuary Transitional Shelter is located at:
1046 T Street
Fresno, CA 93721
(Between Tulare and Mariposa in Downtown Fresno)
For more information call or text: (559) 931-1444
“Sanctuary Transitional Shelter operates an overnight shelter for homeless or otherwise displaced youth and young adults.”
Overnight Shelter Services. Youth and young adults (ages 18-24) can receive:
• Overnight shelter
• Housing support
• Counseling and supportive services
• Employment and education services
FRESNO MISSION www.fresnomission.org
Rescue. Restore. Empower. Through Christ-centered communities of transformation.
The mission houses thousands of people annually and feeds many more.
EVANGEL HOME evangelhome.com
Mission (from the website):
• To serve women and children in crisis.
• To meet their basic physical needs.
• To promote personal development and responsibility.
• To encourage spiritual growth.
• To uphold and honor Jesus Christ in all we do.
ECO VILLAGE PROJECT OF FRESNO, A Green Solution to Homelessness ecovillagefresno.org
Arthur Dyson and friends guide this venture.
“The Eco Village Project of Fresno provides safe and dignified living spaces in an environmentally sustainable manner, giving each resident the educational, emotional and physical tools, caring support and training to escape the cycle of homelessness.”
NOTE: Founder, Nancy Whitlow, was recently honored. “Valley PBS presented Nancy with the award on March 20, 2021. Fred McFeely Rogers (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) was born on March 20, 1928, and these awards are bestowed upon select members of the Central Valley community every year on Mister Rogers’ birthday in honor of his legacy.”
WINGS FRESNO www.wingsfresno.org
Mission Statement: “Affirming every human being’s right to shelter, Wings Advocacy Fresno engages volunteers to serve our homeless neighbors.”