About 100 West Fresno residents on Wednesday protested the decline of social services offered at the county’s West Fresno Regional Center, following the consolidation of many services into a new centralized facility in Clovis.

“This is a hardship on top of hardship when you have to pay someone to take you somewhere, for a service you used to walk to,” Sharon Williams, a west Fresno resident, said at the protest. “And we have to deal with so much. Now we have to deal with having to leave our community.”

James Williams, a single father, said he used the west Fresno center several times. “I live down the street, and it took me two to three minutes to ride my bike here,” Williams said. “Now, all of a sudden, I came up here, and it’s closed.”

Williams said he had to call around for a ride or take an Uber for close to $40 or ride several buses for two to three hours with his 4-year-old son.

“That is unfair. That is not equal. For us as a people, especially in southwest Fresno, that’s just this disgrace to our community, to the service.”

Fresno County officials have maintained via email and face-to-face interactions from Sept. 3 to Sept. 13 that there have been no reduction in services at the center. If anything, they say, the department has enhanced what is offered to the west Fresno community.

“The bottom line is Fresno County has not reduced or eliminated services for west Fresno, but enhanced and expanded them,” stated Sonja Dosti, Fresno County’s public information officer, in a Sept. 3 email.

“We put a resource center in that area that was never there before,” Fresno County Chief Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau said on Sept. 10. “I would argue that if you looked at the services four years ago, three years ago, compared to where they’re now, it’s night and day.”

A Fresnoland/Fresno Bee investigation found that while staffing levels at the West Fresno Regional Center have remained around the same since 2017, a key type of staff member — eligibility workers, who help residents navigate a complex bureaucracy — have not been present, at least since the pandemic, resulting in many people being sent to Clovis.

Robert Mitchell, co-chair of the Golden Westside Planning Committee, said that DSS and county leaders have not been truthful in their dealings with the community regarding the west Fresno center.

“If you’re going to be dishonest with the small thing, what are you going to do when it comes to the large?” Mitchell said.

The protest was organized by the Golden Westside Planning Committee and featured about 10 speakers, many of whom described the hardship that the new location has created for them.

“That’s what we are constantly fighting over and over again,” said Debbie Darden, chair of the committee. “The sad part is we have to sleep down there with one eye open, because changes are happening. We’re just not being informed until the last minute.”

Most of the speakers demanded that the services stay at pre-pandemic levels, and that the county should put the needs of the community ahead of economic decisions.

“Social Service is supposed to be for the people,” James William III, a west Fresno resident, said. “It is a disgrace. So I’m asking please, on behalf of southwest Fresno, bring back our service to our community.”

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Dr. Dympna Ugwu-Oju is the senior editor for Fresnoland.