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The sign of the former Days Inn is removed, with the property becoming the Sun Lodge as part of Project HomeKey. Owned by Fresno Housing, Sun Lodge currently houses 138 adults. Photo by Fresno Housing

published on November 9, 2021 - 1:45 PM
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Nearly eight months into the first Project HomeKey properties opening to the homeless in the Fresno area, five former hotels have served hundreds of individuals.

The properties were purchased and rehabilitated with state funds to help people living on the street transition on their way to permanent housing. Occupancy has remained mostly full with units staying open for mere hours after being vacated. While transitions to permanent housing have been limited, for organizations seeking to get people off the street, the state-funded program represents another tool in an arsenal of resources.

Each of the different HomeKey properties is targeted at serving a portion of the population.

Crossroads Village aims to help people with a lower level of needs, according to Katie Wilbur, executive director of Fresno-based RH Community Builders, which owns Crossroads Village.

Doreen Eley, assistant director of special programs for Fresno Housing, said the first priority is to get people housed. People are brought into the hotels, usually found by outreach groups who work with the homeless.

They try to prioritize pregnant women, people with medical needs and families with children.

Once housed, an assessment is done to determine a person’s health — both physical and mental.

They try to have people relocated within 90 days of arriving at a Fresno Housing HomeKey property. Tenants at Crossroads Village typically stay six to seven months, said Wilbur. Families staying at Step Up On 99 can stay for as long as a year.

Units at HomeKey properties don’t stay vacant for long, Eley said. Once available, they are usually filled within a couple hours.
RH Community Builders purchased Crossroads Village using $14.8 million from Fresno County to purchase and rehab the 165 units of the former Smugglers Inn. Turning Point Central California operates the complex.

Acquisition and repair costs to the four properties operated by Fresno Housing totaled just over $18.75 million.

Tenants began moving in in January to Crossroads Village, largely from other shelters — including Poverello House, Fresno Mission or Westcare. Units have kitchenettes with a hot plate and refrigerator, a TV and sitting area. They have an on-site pool, community library and community activities, Wilbur said.

Rents are established by using fair market rates, recognizing the units don’t have the same amenities as a standard apartment. Studios run at $795 while a one-bedroom runs for $850. Rent includes utilities and high-speed internet. Most of the tenants receive a subsidy from the agency that referred them and then must cover the rest.

Those subsidies vary depending on case manager evaluations of how much each client can afford.

Tenants must make below 30% area-median income. The second phase of the project is to bring in full kitchens to the units.

When the nonprofit first acquired Crossroads Village, RH Community Builders had to bring the units up to standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

At Step Up on 99, the Fresno Housing site for families, tenants with a source of income pay $300 a month once they settle in. No rent is charged at the other three Homekey sites operated by Fresno Housing as those operate as emergency shelters, according to Brandi Johnson, communications manager for Fresno Housing.

Service providers for the homeless keep a running database on clients called the Homeless Management Information System. A person’s demographic information and some case notes are stored and tracked. A vulnerability index stored under HMIS also keeps records of mental and physical health any family relationships, Eley said. This information is used to help service providers determine what level of care may be needed for a person.

The biggest challenge is having enough permanent affordable housing for people in HomeKey properties to transition to, Eley said. Rents have grown at record levels in the Central Valley, making acquiring housing more difficult.

Wilbur said at Crossroads Village, a number have moved into low-income housing while others have been able to get their own market rate housing after earning better jobs. Wilbur said Turning Point Central California tracks the data. Multiple calls to Turning Point were not returned.

Forty tenants at Fresno Housing have moved into permanent housing paid for on their own while 20 moved into housing with a subsidy. Nine moved in with family.

Across units owned by Fresno Housing, 90 adults, however, have transitioned back to the street.

“While staff does their best to find a permanent housing option for each participant, we understand that sometimes a trauma-filled life can be a barrier to healing and wellness.  We continue to meet with all individuals who come our way, never giving up hope that someday we will meet them at the right moment in time for them to find a permanent housing solution,” Eley said.

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