The city of Fresno’s Project Off-Ramp got off to a solid start on Monday when 42 homeless people agreed to leave their tents alongside a freeway embankment and be relocated to safer quarters.
Outreach workers were on hand Monday to introduce the people to the services available to help them.
Mayor Jerry Dyer said Tuesday that he was encouraged that all 42 people who were approached Monday agreed to accept help from the city and its community-based organization partners that include Poverello House and the Fresno Rescue Mission.
Project Off-Ramp is the city’s effort to encourage homeless people to take advantage of motel housing and public services that will get them off the streets and back on their feet.
Dyer introduced the new program, which will continue for several months, in a video posted on Facebook last Friday. Notices were provided last week to homeless people at the site, and he accompanied outreach workers who arrived at 7 a.m. Monday to offer housing and other services.
‘No One Refused Services’
“It was amazing how receptive they were,” he said Tuesday. “… No one refused services from us yesterday. Having that conversation with them. Telling them, ‘Hey, we’re not here to judge you, we’re here to provide you with housing and services. We love you right where you’re at, but we’re not willing to leave you where you’re at. It’s dangerous and unhealthy for you.”
Fresno is purchasing motels as transitional housing for the homeless using funds provided by the state through Project Homekey and federal dollars, Dyer said.
Cleaning up homeless encampments sites such as those along the banks of freeways are part of a city beautification effort. Trash tends to accumulate in the vicinity of homeless sites because there are no services to remove it, and the homeless sites are inherently unsafe next to high-speed traffic on freeways.
Residents Want Sites Cleared
In the video, Dyer said that since citywide clean-up efforts were launched through Beautify Fresno, he has received calls and social media contacts asking what the city could do about the homeless sites along freeways.
The land is under the jurisdiction of the state of California, but the city has permission to send outreach workers to the sites to talk to homeless people about voluntary relocation, he said.
The project gives the homeless “an off-ramp from the freeway, and from a life of homelessness, into housing, services, and a productive life,” Dyer said.
But the effort also is important for public safety, he said. Over a two-week period three homeless people were struck and killed on freeways, and last year 618 fires erupted next to freeways, requiring city resources to extinguish them.
“It is more than just an unsightly appearance,” he said. “It is a health hazard and a public safety hazard to the folks on that freeway. The humane thing to do, the compassionate thing to do, is to relocate those individuals from our freeways into housing, to provide them services, to provide them counseling.”