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Poverello House offers relief, housing to those who have lost hope

After visiting San Francisco and interviewing members of the homeless community, junior Sam Cross determined to do the same in his hometown of Fresno.

Cross hopes that his coverage of homelessness provides his fellow classmates and peers a perspective on the people affected by the crisis and provides a new perspective on the issue. This article is part one of two in a series spotlighting homelessness in Fresno’s downtown. For part two of the series spotlighting homelessness in the downtown area of Fresno, read Fresno residents reflect on homeless crisis, pt. 2

Passing through trash laden streets while homeless tents covered sidewalks, Cross and photo editor Cayla Rivas, ’18, ventured to “G” Street and Santa Clara in downtown Fresno.

Cayla Rivas

Eric Jeffrey (left) explains his situation to Sam Cross, ’19, near the Poverello House, Feb. 3.

In an article published by YourCentralValley.com, Shawn Jenkins, Chairman of the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care, approximates that 1,572 individuals are homeless in Fresno. In a Fresno Bee article published in 2017, Tim Sheehan reports that the homeless population in Fresno rose 20% from 2016-2017.

After a divorce, Fresnan Maria Garcia fell into homelessness losing her home, job and car.

“It (homelessness) has been an eye opener; it has humbled me and it has taught me how to survive,” Garcia said. “I’m a mother of four; I used to have a household, job and a car. I was a functional citizen of society until I went through a divorce with my first husband. He left me and my children and from there it just went downhill. I gave up. Homelessness has taught me how to appreciate the better things in life I used to have. You learn when to be quiet and not say anything. Sometimes you just need let things happen and see how they turn out.”

Many living in the downtown area have been impacted or affected by the rising homeless issue. Fresno resident, Alex (last name withheld) experienced a period of homelessness when his mother and father both passed away. Through relationships with homeless friends, he remains closely connected individuals affected by the crisis.

“Homelessness doesn’t affect me that much, but then again it does affect me because a lot of my friends are homeless,” Alex said. “I end up helping them out in some ways like showers or storing their stuff. It’s in my nature (to help people); the name Alexander does mean helper of mankind in Greek. I didn’t grow up in Fresno. I’m originally from Sanger (California). I came to Fresno because they had a Poverello House, and when I was homeless I needed somewhere to go and eat.”

I was able to find jobs at some points (when I was homeless) through friends. I’d get off, get clean and end up using again and end up right back out here. It (homelessness) has really rekindled the love for mankind in me. There are people out here that look out for you and help you when you need it even when you think you don’t need it. Sometimes there is a sisterhood or brotherhood when you are homeless depending on who you surround yourself with, but for the most part it’s a dog eat dog kind of world out here — Maria Garcia

When he was homeless, Alex traveled across the state and shares the impact the Poverello House had on his life.

“Believe it or not I travelled a lot more when I was homeless then when I was with my family,” Alex said. “I went everywhere, Oregon, Los Angeles and Nevada. I wouldn’t have gone to those places if I wasn’t homeless. I wouldn’t have seen a lot of the country or the state. I walked or traveled with friends. It only takes eight hours to walk from here (Fresno) to Sanger. When you have nothing to do, you can do whatever you want. The Poverello house helped me when I first was out here going into the sheds and then feeding me. You can’t starve out here, you have to be dumb to starve here. People throw food at you.”

Cayla Rivas

Sam Cross speaks with Lionel about homelessness and the impact it has on his life.

Cruz Avila, chief executive officer of the Poverello House, gives his perspective on the crisis. 

Homelessness has been around for many years,” Avila said. “What is happening now is that you have propositions that have added to our numbers. Prop 47 as an example, along with economic hardships. Life happens and so does falling on hard times, but the Poverello House is a safe haven for all those in need. We are addressing that emergency need 365 days of the year, enriching the life and spirits of all those who pass our way.”

According to Avila, as a non-profit, the Poverello House offers a “no-questions asked come as you are” service for those seeking assistance. The Poverello House services 402,000 visits throughout the year. When inquired about the root cause of the issue, Avila reveals the Poverello House’s struggle to house and shelter each individual that seeks refuge and assistance.

“Not enough beds, for our homeless population to received once they complete their paperwork what we call ‘document ready’,” Avila said. “For them to receive a bed in unit (apartment), our clients will come in with the hope of getting off the streets and have a place to call their own but when they go through the whole process and time to complete their paperwork.”

The lack of housing causes many on the waiting list to lose hope and give up.

“We will lose our clients, because they are disappointed and lose hope,” Avila said. “They go back out to the streets and back to their conformant zone, losing the hope once again, to get them back through process. They will get fatigued and not bother. We are limited with beds that we have as a non-profit. Our 74 beds are full and at capacity for the last four and a half years that I have been here at the Poverello House.”

After enduring many hardships, Garcia appreciates the compassion and kindness of those around her. Garcia talks about her struggles with substance abuse.

“I was able to find jobs at some points (when I was homeless) through friends,” Garcia said. “I’d get off, get clean and end up using again and end up right back out here. It (homelessness) has really rekindled the love for mankind in me. There are people out here that look out for you and help you when you need it even when you think you don’t need it. Sometimes there is a sisterhood or brotherhood when you are homeless depending on who you surround yourself with, but for the most part it’s a dog eat dog kind of world out here.”

In the United States, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 553,742 people endure homeless on any given night. 192,875 individuals who are homeless live in places not intended for habitation. Homelessness grew in the nation by 0.7% from 2016-2017. 

Eric Jeffrey first came to Fresno to meet the five-year-old son he never knew he had. Jeffrey became homeless after his family “fell apart.”    

“Homelessness is a thing that occurs anywhere not just in Fresno, but anywhere,” Jeffrey said. “There isn’t a certain type of homelessness; it takes all walks of life. You never know who you are going to meet out here. You try to do the best you can. I am 56 and I have six kids and 18 grandchildren. These last four years I fell into homelessness after my family fell apart. It’s hard to find work.”

Sam Cross | The Feather Online

Eric Jeffrey feels called to bless those around him with his talents. 

During the interview, Cross observed Jeffrey’s embroidered hat that read ‘faith’ with a cross in place of the letter ‘t’. He inquired about how Jeffrey’s belief impacted his life and situation.

“Religion is a strong point (in my life). If it weren’t for I wouldn’t be here,” Jeffrey said. “After losing my family and separating from them, I really didn’t want to be here no more. I had a choice to make. I chose to leave early without permission, but a friend of mine talked to me and comforted me. I give them credit for me still being alive. There’s no certain pattern for someone to get out of this rut, so you find your own avenue. Without faith I would’ve given up a long time ago. Faith sends angels to help us.

“After giving up, I decided to get mad and fight,” Jeffrey continued. “Not only just fight for myself but fight for others. I am going to get out of this and it’s just a matter of, ‘Am I going to be one of the ones that get of this and say ha ha?’ No. My faith turns me around and says, ‘Each one teach one. Reach back if you got a blessing, it’s not for you. It’s for you to bless somebody else with.’  If I can just get a hand, I can become a hand and help the next man.’”

Avila challenges high school students to learn more about homelessness and be beacons of hope to those who do not have a voice. The Feather hopes to continue seeking information on how to share and engage students on this issue.

For an earlier article on issues and development in downtown Fresno, read Fulton District undergoes renovations, restorations to historic area and Fulton District is open for business.

The following slide show was photographed and compiled by photo editor Cayla Rivas, Feb. 3.

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For more articles, read Sibling Series: Alina, Makayla and Joseph Davila. For more features, read Editor-in-chief exposed to homelessness in San Francisco.

Sam Cross can be reached via Twitter and via email.

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