While there are a myriad of reasons leading a person to homelessness, “nobody is ever just dealing with homelessness,” according to Rain Chamberlain, housing advocate with Faith in the Valley.
“They are dealing with domestic violence situations; they’re dealing with CPS (child protective services); they’re dealing with debt collectors; they’re dealing with sometimes criminal, legal stuff. They’re dealing with employment struggles; they’re dealing with health struggles,” Chamberlain explained.
This guide lays out advice from Chamberlain and Dez Martinez, formerly homeless individuals, who now run nonprofits that advocate for the unhoused community.
Chamberlain, who was chronically homeless for about half of their life, started the nonprofit Navigating Structures to advocate and provide resources for the homeless, while also working with Faith in the Valley to advance housing justice.
“Navigating Structures, it is one of those ‘by-and-for’ models, where it is very much trying to change the power dynamic of who makes change,” Chamberlain said. “It needs to stop being a savior complex model where people that have never experienced homelessness and probably never will come in and try to earn brownie points. It needs to be people that have experienced it that know what the real problems are (who are) leading the solutions.”
Martinez, who was homeless as a result of domestic violence, now runs We Are Not Invisible which organizes resources for the “street community” and operates a “safe camp,” she said.
“During my experience with homelessness out here, I noticed that there was a lack, a lack of a lot of resources,” Martinez said. “(I was) tired, exhausted of people thinking I wanted to be there when there was absolutely nowhere to go.”
Both provided information on the resources that are available in Fresno as well as tips (listed below) for people who are experiencing homelessness.
1. Get a P.O. Box right away.
Chamberlain said that getting a mailbox when they were unhoused was “lifesavingly useful.”
“Being able to get mail consistently, over the course of years — and prioritizing that (P.O. BOX) bill when it comes in, trying to pay it six months at a time if you can — is the difference between finding out that Housing Authority is trying to get ahold of you and you have a place or (the housing voucher) expiring because wherever they mailed it to last, you can’t access,” Chamberlain said.
They suggested trying to get a P.O. box that has a street address to maintain the appearance of being housed, when trying to access certain amenities.
2. If possible, get storage, even if it is just a lock box at the bank.
Chamberlain said if people cannot afford a storage unit for their belongings, it would be beneficial to get a lock box at a bank to store their identification information and records.
“It means getting access to your records is up to 72 hours away as opposed to three months away, if it is stolen or lost and you have to figure out how to reobtain it,” Chamberlain said.
3. Have proof that you are unhoused.
Chamberlain said whether it be an eviction notice, a motel voucher or a note saying you can no longer stay at a friend or family member’s house, having proof that you are unhoused can help, when seeking assistance.
4. Have a go-bag for your most important items.
Chamberlain said for those who are living in encampments, having a go-bag in case of sweeps, can help keep your most important things with you.
5. Get a gym membership or sign up for college classes.
“If someone is about to become homeless, one of the biggest things I can recommend for people is to get a gym membership because if you can maintain your hygiene, you can maintain different resources,” Chamberlain said. “And don’t tell the gym that you’re going to be homeless. You can go in and shower and spend 15 minutes cycling on a bike while you charge your phone.”
Chamberlain said signing up for a college class at Fresno City College can also grant you access to on-campus showers and areas where you can charge your phone. Another option is to ask a friend to use their shower, even if they cannot provide housing.
6. Go to Fresno City Council meetings.
Martinez said her top advice is to make your needs known at the Fresno City Council meeting. She frequently speaks during public comment periods at council meetings and also brings people seeking shelter to the meeting.
“Let them know that you’re homeless, that you need help, that you want help,” Martinez said. “You don’t want to be part of their statistics that say ‘you don’t want (help)’, you do want it.”
For a guide on how to access additional resources, read here.
What questions do you have?
This guide is a work in progress. If you are homeless and have additional questions about resources or tips, please fill out the form below or call/text reporter Cassandra Garibay at 559-441-6004.