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Fresno Housing Authority works with homeless, nurtures opportunity 

After visiting San Francisco and interviewing members of the homeless community there, Cross determined to do the same in his hometown of Fresno. While speaking to Brian Martin, Sunshine and Bobby Lee in SF, Cross reflected on the lessons they taught him through the recounting of their experiences and the hope they had for their future.

Cross hopes that his coverage of homelessness gives 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 two of two in a series spotlighting homelessness in the downtown area of Fresno. For those who missed the first installment, read read Fresno residents reflect on homeless crisis, pt. 1

After moving from Brooklyn, New York to Fresno, Doreen Eley began working the homeless at the Marjaree Mason Center and earned a bachelors in social work and a masters in business administration from Fresno State.

Sam Cross | The Feather Online

Brandi Johnson (right) provides Sam Cross, ’19, with information about the Fresno Housing Authority. Cross interviewed Doreen Eley, (front left).   

“I started working in homelessness about 2001, in working with the Marjaree Mason Center in their domestic violence shelter,” Eley said. “Through that, they had a partnership with Poverello House. They opened up a homeless shelter for women, not with the issue of domestic violence just with other issues surrounding homelessness. It was called Naomi’s House. I was their first director and that opened in October of 2002. I have been doing this work ever since in one way or another.”

From 2013 to the present, Eley serves the Fresno Housing Authority as senior manager for housing authority. Eley oversees housing programs for the homeless and community education about homelessness and low income public housing units.

“This is very rewarding work,” Eley said. “I enjoy this agency’s total commitment to housing of individuals. Be it homeless individuals or low income individuals. That really on a personal level has meant the most to me.”

Richard Thistle intends to share the gospel with those who live in downtown Fresno. Thistle felt that God called him to minister to those in the area.

“I come out (downtown Fresno) here and I hand out waters,” Thistle said. “I say, ‘Here is some physical water, but would you like spiritual water. Water that will make you never thirst again.’ I tell them that story and I get to give them a Bible. I give one to a person and then they get equipped to give to somebody else. We are to be fishers of men so it’s better to teach somebody how to fish, then just give them a fish. I like to come down here, give back and help bring people out of these situations.”

According to Eley, the Fresno Housing Authority partners with the Department of Behavioral Health, the Department of Social Services, with private non-profits such as Westcare California, Economic Opportunities Commission and works with the homeless largely with the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care. Eley believes that everyone has the chance of finding themselves homeless.

“Any of us can be there at any time,” Eley said. “Everyone has needed help in some realm. At one time or another. It just depends on where you are in life. No one who is homeless today woke up one morning and said, ‘I think I will throw it all away in a cardboard box in downtown Fresno.’ There are so many backstories, circumstances et cetera that leads a person to homelessness. There needs to be a concerted effort to lead a person out of homelessness and back into society and productivity.”  

Some individuals who are homeless feel that they are used. Monique Garcia expresses her distaste for some who offer relief to her.

“I have been out here since I was 18 and now I’m 26,” Garcia said. “As much as people leave from here, people always end up coming back out here. There are people out here that are trying to help us out here and they really don’t care about us.”

Garcia calls for people to have more compassion for the homeless.

“If people opened up their hearts more and had more compassion, how they praise Jesus and he was homeless himself,” Garcia continued. “Why is he any different than anyone else out here? If you have full faith and you believe in what you believe in, why down the people that are homeless when the person you praise was homeless himself?”

Eley sees the members of the homeless community as courageous people who struggle to better their situation. Eley recalls her interaction with one woman, and her influence on the woman’s life.

Cayla Rivas | The Feather Online

Many individuals who are homeless live in tents in Fresno. The Fresno Housing Authority seeks to help those affected by homelessness. 

“I knew a woman when I was working at Poverello House who had some different things happen in her life. She fell into addiction,” Eley said. “We worked hard in trying to get her into treatment. It was not the thing she wanted at that particular time.”

When working with clients, Eley utilizes media to help teach a message. She finds that music to be an effective tool when she works with women.

“There is a song by Mary J. Blige called ‘No More Drama’,” Eley said. “In the song that is pretty much what she is saying. These things that have happened in my life. I don’t want any more drama in my life, so I’m going to move on. I played it at one little community setting we that we have, and by the end of it, we were all crying, dancing and talking about there being no more drama in our lives. She was in that class and she walked out of it, gave me a hug just like everybody else did. I didn’t see her for a while. I want to say three or four years later she came up to me and said, ‘I’m sober now. I have my own apartment now. I’m going back to school and it’s all because of you.’”

As each community struggles with residents without a home, organizations like the Poverello House and public agencies such as the Fresno Housing Authority aim to help those who battle homelessness. 

Photo editor Cayla Rivas, ’18, shares the story of the homeless through a photo slideshow. 

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For part one, read Fresno residents reflect on homeless crisis, pt. 1. For more articles, read Community leaders, Fresno Christian supports 31st annual Kids Day

Sam Cross can be reached Twitter and via email

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