City & County of Fresno Address Homelessness During Coronavirus Pandemic

Photo: Fox26


The City and County of Fresno are working closely together, and the other 14 cities within Fresno County are also involved in that collaboration. Madera County is working with Fresno County as well.

Fresno County District 5 Supervisor Nathan Magsig says that collaboration allows for a more effective response.

“We are taking a regional approach when it comes to our homeless, and we recognize the fact that our homeless are the most vulnerable population that we have here in Fresno County.”

The State government doled out $2 million to Fresno County.

Mayor Lee Brand’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, H Spees, say a million of that went the County; half a million went to the City; and half a million went to “the continuum of care.”

The County and City also expect more aid from the State and Federal governments.

With that money, Magsig says a team has opened 300 beds across the City and County of Fresno through RH Builders. 200 of those are already filled up.

“We recognize the need to move as many homeless from the streets into shelters as possible,” explained Magsig.

Fresno Council President Miguel Arias says the City and County of Fresno had already been working to make additional beds available for the homeless.

That initiative first started in November of 2019, and since then, there have been 200 new beds opened up in several shelters, separate from the additional 300 being funded by the State.

“We are making sure we don’t continue the mistakes that were made in the past,” said Arias. “One was housing the homeless and the most vulnerable populations in sub-standard housing in our city. So in the shelters that we’re opening and the motels that we’ve identified for vouchers – those will not be the sub-standard motels have served our city for decades.”

Arias explained, tent cities and the idea of cramming a bunch of homeless people into one space clearly doesn’t work. He says Coronavirus is clear evidence of that.

The $2 million Governor Newsom is providing will also go toward hotel rooms for homeless who can’t stay in other shelters. The City is targeting 20-30 hotel rooms, but may have to increase to more.

“The reason we’re using hotel rooms is because that’ll give us an opportunity to isolate those folks that are pending test results, or have been identified as COVID positive but do not require hospitalization.”

Our news partner FOX26 asked, “What will be done to protect the staff at those hotels?”

“There’s likely going to be janitorial services that will come in and clean,” answered de la Rosa. “In addition to that, the service providers that would provide food on site are already working with the population and know how to follow CDC guidelines to ensure there’s no cross-contamination. But the idea would be, is that we would have consistent cleanliness in those area.”

Existing shelters have also been involved in these talks. De la Rosa explained, that includes a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

“We are adapting CDC guidelines to the existing shelters, to ensure we are able to keep them clean. We are working with the providers to ensure everything that needs to be ordered, is ordered.”

Reporter Marie Edinger from KMJ’s news partner FOX26 News asked what the plan is if someone infected with COVID-19 shows up at one of those already-existing shelters.

The woman from the panel who answered did not provide her name, and FOX26 neglected to ask for it.

“We’re doing an assessment right now with the individuals in the shelters to see if they have a primary care physician or if they’re connected to a clinic, and then we’re also going to be giving them guidelines in the next day or two of how they should handle individuals.”

The panelist with the County or City went on to explain a big part of that effort is to make sure anyone who might be impacted is isolated.

“We’ve done our very best in the new shelters to co-locate people who were living together on the street, so that any exposure they had would be replicated in the new shelter. Then for those individuals in the existing shelters, we’ll do the same thing – if someone is found to be symptomatic, we would want to isolate them wherever they are and put extra effort into making sure they’re not mingling with other people and such.”

There will also be handwashing stations set up across Fresno County.

So far, there are 30 set up in the metro area of Fresno. More have also been set up in the City of Reedley, the city of Sanger, and de la Rosa says some will go to Mendota and Firebaugh.

“It just depends, said de la Rosa. “At this point, we’ve located quite a few of them next to the existing shelters, but there’s the potential that we’re probably going to do even more than that. We just needed a place to start.”

De la Rosa says there’s been a bit of a struggle getting supplies out to each community, and with knowing which areas most urgently need supplies.

De la Rosa compared the hand washing stations to what you might see at an outside party – some of them free-standing, others connected to outside water.

Each of them is serviced once a week.