Documented by Kristina Mansfield
Here’s what you need to know
- The Fresno Madera Continuum of Care (FMCoC) held its first in-person meeting in more than three years on Nov. 9 at 8:30 a.m.
- The board voted to approve the Revised Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Policy and Procedures contingent upon a special meeting of the HMIS Committee next week to discuss further amendments. The meeting was scheduled in response to a prolonged, heated debate between the FMCoC members and local advocate Dez Martinez.
- The meeting’s Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention Grant Program-5 (HHAP) Community Input Session featured more back-and-forth between members of the public and meeting staff over what some said was a lack of clear communication and subpar community outreach than actual feedback from the community HHAP-5.
- Has the city of Fresno made a good faith effort to further/formalize its working relationship with Dez Martinez and her nonprofit, We Are Not Invisible?
- Why does the Fresno Madera CoC HMIS EULA include an agreement for disputes to be arbitrated in Kansas City Metropolitan instead of California?
- Why are secular organizations, such as Kingsview and Poverello House, hired to provide social services to a diverse population using public funds?
- What appeal protocols are in place if applicants are denied services and how are they monitored?
The regular meeting of the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care took place Nov. 9, 2023, in the Training Room at Westcare, located at 1900 N. Gateway Drive in Fresno. The meeting was also available via Zoom. The meeting was the first in-person since March 2020.
Forty-two people participated in the meeting online; 21 people attended the meeting in person. The next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14, 2023.
Fresno Madera Continuum of Care Board Members present:
Chair Laura Moreno
Vice-Chair Jody Ketcheside
Secretary Sara Mirhadi
Member At-Large Katie Wilbur
Regional Representative for Clovis Claudia Cazares
Regional Representative for Madera Joel Bugay (present online)
Other notable figures engaged in the meeting were:
Activist Dez Martinez, We Are Not Invisible
Lisa Flores, Fresno resident
Brandi Nuse-Villegas, homeless and housing activist
LEAB Chair Alex Sanchez
Marcella S. Lopez-Schmidt, Fresno Housing Authority
Maya Spark, Homebase
Moreno called the meeting to order shortly after its 8:30 a.m. start time. Secretary Sara Mirhadi called the roll. There was one change to the agenda. Moreno said the HHAP-5 Community Input Session is not an action item as listed but rather she wanted to get to the item early in the meeting due to its importance.
No. 1: Approve October and September Special Meeting Minutes and November Financial Report The first item on the agenda was the approval of the September and October Special Meeting Minutes and November Financial Report. Ketcheside moved to approve; the motion passed unanimously.
No. 2: Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention Grant Program (HHAP) Community Input Session. The meeting then segued into the HHAP 5 Community Input Session section. Prior to the start of the activity portion, Fresno resident Lisa Flores – who was participating in the meeting online – made a comment about the competency of the organizer’s public outreach efforts.
“Your flier is insufficient and deficient as far as a public outreach document,” she said. Flores said she found out about the meeting that day from a printed event flier and that she went to the website address shown to get more information. She typed the website address into her browser, she said, but couldn’t easily find information she was looking for and had to take several more steps to find it. “I just question the whole validity of your community outreach if the information is not literally three clicks away and easily accessible.”
“This is not the only opportunity for people to provide input,” countered Moreno, after thanking Flores for her comment and stating she would absolutely take it into consideration. “This was one of the six or nine meetings that are set up–”
“It may be one of the six or nine,” said Flores before Moreno could finish, “but you also have to understand sometimes people only have one opportunity to engage.” Moreno then thanked Flores for her comments and made a few remarks about meeting accessibility at the CoC level, before calling on an online meeting participant who had requested to comment.
Brandi Nuse-Villegas, Fresno resident and homeless and housing activist, agreed with Flores. She said she had been trying to share the information with people and has had to send individual links herself. She suggested using a QR code or Bitly link on the fliers to make accessing the information more direct.
Moreno said Nuse-Villegas made a good point about the link in the fliers and said she would take it into consideration before attempting, again, to start the activity portion. “I’m going to turn over the online –” she began, but Flores interjected again to ask if she was going to correct the current flier. “The current flier is the one with the missed information, creating the current missed opportunities. That’s all I ask,” Flores said. Moreno said she wasn’t sure if they had the ability to do that and would need to take a look at it and mentioned the other meetings were in person.
Ketcheside said that the city put out a flier with a link to the calendar which listed the Nov. 9, 9 a.m. meeting but that the meeting started at 8:30 a.m. She said she went to the calendar and “the link worked for her.” Moreno and Ketcheside commented a bit more back and forth about in-person versus online meetings and links. Neither Ketcheside nor Moreno seemed to realize that Nuse-Villegas and Flores were trying to communicate that the information they each had issues accessing were the actual meeting materials that were to be read prior to the start of the meeting, which were hard to find both before and during the meeting.
Examples include the HHAP 5 Workshop Handout, which explains the basics of HHAP funding, or the Revised HMIS Policy and Procedures, a copy of which were not provided either in print or online.
After the discussion about outreach and documents finished, Ketcheside and Wilbur started the Community Input Session. According to the workshop handout, the HHAP-5 grant mandates applicants create and implement a Regionally Coordinated Homelessness Action Plan (Action Plan) that must meet certain requirements, such as funding projects that provide housing and services delivered in a low-barrier, trauma-informed and culturally responsive manner. During the Community Input Session, members of the public were given five stickers to indicate which of the 10 eligible activity categories were their top five priorities. The eligible activity categories included:
- Delivery of Permanent Housing and Innovative Housing Solutions
- Rapid Rehousing
- Prevention and Shelter Diversion
- Operating Subsidies for Permanent Housing
- Interim Housing
- Operating Subsidies for Interim Housing
- Improvements to Existing Interim Housing
- Street Outreach
- Service Coordination
- System Support
The activities commenced and included lots of questions from meeting participants.
Flores asked where conflict resolution would fall within the five priorities. Ketcheside said it would fall into all service activities “but it’s not called out specifically.” Flores requested to see policies and procedures for conflict resolution. Ketcheside offered to meet with her one-on-one to break down the CoC and explain what they have authority over and what they do not.
Martinez asked for clarification on the restrictions for funding for new interim housing. Wilbur said the HHAP-5 won’t be used to fund new interim housing solutions. “But,” she said, “it could be used to fund currently existing interim housing solutions, which is the government name for low-barrier shelters, but we couldn’t use it to open a new shelter.” Wilbur further clarified that HHAP-5 funding could be used for groundbreaking and infrastructure for permanent housing options and would fall within the first activity category.
Martinez then asked why rapid rehousing was included in both its own section and under the prevention and shelter diversion category. Wilbur said rapid rehousing can be used as both a prevention tool and as a funding mechanism to keep someone housed in their current housing solution. “It can also be used as a funding mechanism to exit somebody from shelter with a short-term subsidy. So it can be used in two different arenas,” said Wilbur.
Martinez asked about specific programs for youth ages 12-18, as there was nothing called out in the existing programming. Wilbur said each section could have a youth set-aside.
Maya Sparks asked if there are other funding sources available in the community that can be used for prevention or if the HHAP-5 grant is one of the few that allows at-risk people to be served with it. Moreno said some of the state funding that runs through the Department of Social Services, like the CalWorks Housing Support Program, the Housing Disability Advocacy Program, Bringing Families Home and the Home Safe program, allow for assistance for those at risk for homelessness.
Martinez questioned the validity of including some state-defined activity definitions, and said that it’s misleading to use the standardized definitions of, for example, “street outreach” when Fresno currently does not have partners that provide the specific activities listed. Wilbur clarified that this is new funding that could fund any of the listed activities, and that they’re not representing that they’re presently being offered. “These are the definitions from the state of the things that you can use the money [for],” she said.
“There is street outreach and mental health services provided to that population happening now,” countered another meeting participant. Martinez questioned who was providing those services. “Kingsview,” he said. “In the rural, city and county.” According to their website, the mission of Kingsview is to provide community behavioral health and social services to those with limited resources, in the spirit of Christ’s example of love, compassion, and respect for all persons. He offered to get with Martinez after the meeting to fill her in.
Next, Nuse-Villegas questioned why a ranking system was used instead of first asking what the specific needs are that need to be funded. Moreno said that they’re trying to figure out the best way to gather and use the information as they’re putting together the plan.
Sanchez asked if the HHAP-5 was the only funding source in the community that could fund homelessness prevention. Moreno said no, it is not. She said there is a landscape analysis that shows everything that’s available in the community right now so that gaps can be identified.
Ketcheside said someone has to apply for prevention dollars in order for prevention dollars to be used. “Right now, the prevention dollars are not out there,” said Sanchez. “If there’s no application for prevention dollars, then the dollars will be used for something else,” Ketcheside said. “The agencies need to step in and request those dollars.”
Bob McCloskey said the shelters are understaffed and more funding is needed in terms of rehabilitation and people seeking employment. He also questioned blighted properties and said the focus should be on semi-permanent tiny homes and said it was disappointing that two projects are being held up.
Martinez, who had missed the earlier back-and-forth about the event flier because she arrived late, also commented about how confusing it was. She said there are currently three different fliers floating around, one with the city logo, one with the county logo and “one random flier.” Moreno tried to explain the mix-up but couldn’t; further investigation uncovered that city and/or country staff had combined meetings without consulting each other and confused the public in the process. “If you don’t work in that division and you don’t do this stuff [for work], you don’t know. And that’s not fair,” said Martinez.
Flores commented that there may be legal ramifications for combining meetings. With that, the HHAP-5 session was closed and the meeting continued onto the next item on the agenda.
No. 3: Approve the 2024 Lived Experience Advisory Board (LEAB) Budget LEAB Chair Alex Sanchez and Sparks, who also serves as Homebase senior staff attorney, presented the proposed 2024 budget. The board voted unanimously to approve. There was one abstention noted by Mirhadi because Moreno left the meeting.
No. 4: Approve the Revised Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Policy and Procedures Marsella Lopez-Schmidt, Fresno Housing Authority, and Dorian Ely presented the proposed new, revised policies and procedures required to access the HMIS. Each agency must: 1. Receive funding to provide services that assist in the FMCoC housing process and the client becoming housed, or the project must contribute to the Housing Inventory Chart (HIC); 2. Be an established 501(c)3 or relevant government or private entity; 3. Be a FMCoC member in good standing; 4. Identify the project as a HUD or state-mandated project type; and 5. Participate in the FMCoC’s Homeless Response System and abide by its policies and procedures.
For background, an HMIS is a software application designed to record and store client-level information on the characteristics and service needs of homeless persons throughout a CoC jurisdiction that knits together homeless assistance providers within a community and creates a more coordinated and effective housing and service-delivery system. According to HUD’s fact sheet, it can include information from geographic areas ranging from a single county to an entire state. HUD previously published technical standards for the implementation of HMIS that detail the data collection, participation, privacy and security requirements for everyone with access (including the advocates, nonprofits and partnering agencies in the city, county and state that work with homeless people in varying capacities). You can find those rules and regulations here.
Lopez-Schmidt said they have not encountered any providers’ funding being contingent on them having HMIS access as a requirement of their contract. “This should not prohibit anyone from getting funding from anywhere,” she said. “Through this policy change we’re expanding who will have access to HMIS.” She added that the requirements each organization must go through ensure that their board, financial documents and corporate structures are reviewed, and said such efforts will help reduce the risk of client’s security breaches as there is a legal entity that can hold staff accountable if there should ever be a data breach outside of the FMCSA. She then opened the meeting to questions from participants.
Martinez asked for clarification on the first requirement relating to funds received from the government vs. a private source. Lopez-Schmidt said private funding is acceptable as long as it is for activities used to provide services that will help the client get housing, not, for example, she said, passing out blankets and food, “although those things are important. But they’re not part of the housing process.”
Martinez then laid out a specific scenario and asked how the new HMIS policy would come into play. “My 501(3)(c) has been receiving funding to help pay for people’s application fees (and) to pay for the deposits to get into motels because we don’t have any shelter beds available,” she said. “[Funding to put] gas in my car to transport them – this is all private funding. So would I still qualify [with the new HMIS policy and procedures] under that [type of activity] because I’m receiving funding to do those things?”
“If in the funding contract, it lists out those activities –” Lopez-Schmidt began before Martinez cut her off to drive home her point. “What funding contract?” she said.
“Are you saying that the private donors … individuals?” asked Lopez-Schmidt, seemingly unaware that Martinez has been receiving donations from private citizens and groups as part of her community outreach on a continued basis for years. “The funding has to do with your procurement process or similar application,” she said.
“What does that mean?” Martinez pressed. “So .. it would mean that you’re receiving funding from an organization that requires grant funding,” Lopez-Schmidt confirmed.
“So you’re saying that I need to be receiving funding from an organization – is that HUD’s policy?” Martinez asked, becoming visibly irritated. “No,” Lopez-Schmidt confirmed. “This is Fresno’s policy, not HUD’s policy,” Martinez said. “HUD doesn’t set strict guidelines on how the CoC determines who can enter data, it is determined by each CoC,” Lopez-Schmidt clarified.
Martinez then addressed the room directly. “I’d like to speak up because I feel like this is against me,” she said. “It’s not a coincidence..and I feel like you guys are trying to prevent certain individuals from being part of the HMIS.” The next 15 minutes were a heated back-and-forth between Martinez, Smith-Lopez and Ketcheside.
Then Flores sprung to the defense of Martinez. “You guys should be really friggin’ ashamed of yourself,” she began, clearly upset by the exchange. “You’ve had Miss Martinez out there waiting to get into the system for more than six months. What you really should be talking about is who you’re going to grandfather in. She has proven herself as a very good activist in Fresno, in this community and saving people’s lives. Remember she is part of your solution. She is not part of your problem,” Flores continued. “My bigger question to you is: If you’re so afraid of her getting into the system, what are you afraid of her seeing?”
Another meeting participant, unidentified, agreed. “I think that there’s some very valid points being made, and I think that the committee needs to meet again to discuss those valid points.” She asked if there was a way to make a motion to approve contingent on the committee meeting again to review those points. Ketcheside asked Smith-Lopez how many meetings had already taken place on the matter; the answer was two. Smith-Lopez said the committee and several other organizations had already met and approved but the unidentified participant pressed the point and said these were issues important enough to warrant an additional discussion.
Ketcheside then made a motion to approve the Revised Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Policy and Procedures contingent upon a Special Meeting of the HMIS Committee next week to discuss further amendments. The motion passed.
The next section of the meeting was dedicated to Informational Items. There were seven items listed on the agenda but due to time constraints, not all were discussed.
- Mirhadi made a motion to make the necessary edits to the agenda, and it passed unanimously.
- Sanchez presented the Lived Experience Advisory Board (LEAB) Update. Joel Bugay gave a short report about the County of Madera Housing & Homeless Resource Website and Madera Rescue Triage Center. Andrew Morales provided a Fresno County update.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:32 a.m. The next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14.
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