River Park-area business owner Jennifer Large talks about the impact of homelessness on her furniture business. She is flanked by, from left, Andy Hall, Michael Karbassi, Garry Bredefeld and Todd Fraizer. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
Fresno City Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Mike Karbassi held a city hall press conference Tuesday to denounce what they call “the lies and phony narrative” about the causes of homelessness.
Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall, Todd Fraizer, president of the Fresno Police Officers Association, and a local business owner joined the council members in sharing their frustrations regarding homelessness in the city and their proposals for solutions.
“The people are not being told the truth,” Bredefeld said in his opening remarks. “Homelessness is not a housing crisis. It’s a drug, criminal and mental health crisis.”
Bredefeld then condemned certain propositions and bills — Prop 47, passed in 2014, reclassified “non-serious, nonviolent crimes” into misdemeanors instead of felonies, Prop 57 allows the parole board to release nonviolent prisoners after they serve their full sentence for their primary criminal offense and reward their good behavior with reduced sentences.
AB 109 was passed with a goal to divert people convicted of felonies that are not classified as serious to local county jails instead of state prisons.
Bredefeld said that because of Prop 57, the state released “’nonviolent offenders’”—which he said included sex traffickers, drug traffickers, rapists, and drive-by shooters.
The California penal code does currently list murder, attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, forcible sex offenses, rape in concert, robbery and any felony in which a gun is used as “violent” felonies.
Bredefeld also blamed AB 109 for releasing convicts early from prison, which has led to more homeless people on the streets of Fresno.
Citing a study conducted by the Fresno Police Department’s Homeless Task Force Team, in which they interviewed thousands of homeless individuals in the city, Bredefeld said that less than 1% of the homeless population wants to seek assistance.
Bredefeld said what needs to be addressed are the mental issues that homeless individuals face, and that providing more housing will not fix the issue.
Acting at the request of Mayor Lee Brand last year, the Fresno City Council declared a homeless shelter crisis, and the City then applied for $12 million in state funds. Earlier that summer, Brand joined with other mayors in California to lobby for funding to address homelessness, resulting in $500 million in state assistance.
During the press conference, Police Chief Hall shared body cam footage of officers tazing and arresting a man who had stabbed an elderly woman as well as a good Samaritan attempting to help her.
Karbassi said since mental health issues go unaddressed regarding homeless people, such incidents are likely to keep occurring.
“The housing issue is a component, but to tell people that we are going to build more houses and we’re going to solve the problem—that’s not being honest. The real issue is addressing the underlying causes that lead people to become homeless and to become vagrants,” Karbassi said.
Jennifer Large, who with her husband owns Beautiwood Unfinished Furniture in the River Park area, said that homeless people abusing drugs, leaving trash and human waste and committing theft is a blight on her business.
“I don’t have a resolution to this,” Large said. “But as a business owner I have to speak out and say it is affecting all of the work that I’ve been doing to build up. We want to help, so we need everybody to help us help them.”
Bredefeld said it is the responsibility of the media to call out the “bullshit” narrative told by Sacramento about the housing crisis, and that he will be unveiling an ordinance proposal to allow industrial businesses to use barbed wire on their fences.