At its Tuesday meeting, the Madera County Board of Supervisors received a presentation on the county's homelessness strategic plan, which was met with concerns about 'enabling' drug use and 'transients' from Fresno and Merced.

May 2, 2023 — Madera County Board of Supervisors

Documented by Trong Yang

What happened: At its Tuesday meeting, the Madera County Board of Supervisors received a presentation on the county’s homelessness strategic plan, which focuses on collaboration and addressing gaps in support systems.

Deputy County Administrative Officer Joel Bugay began the presentation and said that as part of the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care, the continuum has set goals for the county to reduce family homelessness by 35% and single adult homelessness by 20% by December 2023, while federal agencies aim to reduce national homelessness by 25% by 2025 and the California roadmap seeks to create 1.2 million new homes and protect 1 million low-income renter households from eviction.

Bugay said that one of the major gaps identified through outreach is that 42% of Madera County residents cannot afford the median rent, specifically in the city of Madera.

“There is a group of people that are in the hamster wheel and they’re never going to get off the hamster wheel if the jobs available don’t pay to get them off,” he said.

Following the presentation, several of the supervisors spoke, including Supervisor David Rogers who said he was concerned about government “enabling these people to continue in this lifestyle.”

“Homelessness is a symptom and not a problem necessarily for some of these people so just getting them a house is not the answer,” he said. “The bigger issue for some is the drug addiction, the mental illness, and some…are so far gone they are unrecoverable in terms of mental illness.”

Rogers said he believes the federal Social Security system is enabling drug use and that Prop 47 should be repealed because drug users are “turning anything that they can find into drugs.” He also said he is concerned about the transient homeless population coming into Madera County and “overwhelming the system.”

“Let’s give them a bus ticket back to Fresno or Merced or wherever they came from,” Rogers said.

A chart included in the presentation shows that the total Madera County homeless population included in official counts decreased in 2022.

To which Bugay told Rogers that Madera County is in the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care with Fresno County and that it actually receives a higher percentage of funding per capita.

Supervisor Jordan Wamhoff, a Fresno police 0fficer, said that police officers spend a third or more of their jobs working with people experiencing homelessness, “and they’re not always the best people to deal with homeless issues.”

“A lot of these people don’t have the tools to be able to keep themselves in a home,” he said. “It’s not just ‘they’re homeless,’ they lack the tools to be able to take care of themselves and pay bills.”

While Supervisor Robert Poythress said that he believes homelessness is never going to end and that they should change the name of the strategic plan from, “Steps to Prevent and End Homelessness in Madera County.” He also said they need to separate out the mentally ill from families experiencing homelessness, “because they are 180 degrees different.”

Behavioral Health Director Connie Moreno-Peraza said that bridge housing will help address some of Poythress’ concerns and then addressed Rogers’ concerns, reminding him that it was Mental Health Month, which they acknowledged with a proclamation at the beginning of the meeting.

“Mental health and substance abuse are medical conditions,” she said. “When folks are on the street and not being intervened with their basic needs such as stable housing where they feel safe, not assaulted, not traumatized, if we don’t provide them a safe place…it’s very difficult to get them into treatment.”

Julie Silas, senior attorney with Homebase, presented the results of their work, which included the gaps analysis and identifying five goals and the strategies needed to help the county reach each. The San Francisco-based firm she works for was hired by the county to create the strategic plan and awarded a $120,000 contract for implementation of the plan at this meeting.

“As we all know there are not sufficient housing or services available to meet the great needs across the county currently,” Silas said.

Up next: The Madera County Board of Supervisors will meet again on May 9.

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