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City of Fresno lays out "Project Offramp" highway cleaning and homeless housing initiative

Homeless encampment (Photo: FOX26 News)
Homeless encampment (Photo: FOX26 News)
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The City of Fresno is starting up a new project to clean up the highways and get homeless people off the streets.

Mayor Jerry Dyer calls it "Project Offramp"

"An offramp from a life of homelessness, a life of living on the freeway, and an onramp to housing services and a productive life," Mayor Dyer explained.

FOX26 News asked Mayor Dyer why his project will be successful where other plans have failed to successfully take care of the trash and homeless problems in Fresno.

He says his plan isn't a one-time deal; it'll be a continuing mission for the City.

There are already shelters available for the homeless in Fresno, but this new push goes further, providing transportation and a cleanup plan after people have been provided with housing.

"It's a personal decision on the part of the homeless person to say, 'Do I want to live out on the streets, or do I want to go to housing?' That choice, though, should not include, 'I'm going to live in someone's front yard or on a freeway.'"

The California Highway Patrol and outreach workers are already out notifying homeless individuals about the project.

Next week, the City will work to relocate people to various housing options.

After that, Caltrans will begin cleaning up and restoring the highways.

"The structural integrity of the freeways have been impacted because of some of them digging into the embankments," explained Mayor Dyer.

After that, the City will continue patrols so the homeless encampments aren't re-occupied.

There are four motels available through project Home Key where homeless people will be relocated. Two more motels are being renovated.

FEMA is also providing new funds and the City of Fresno is contributing $6.8 million to sustain Project Home Key.

"It's frustrating on the part of the city when you have a homeless population on the freeway or in your neighborhoods, but the only thing you're able to do is displace them from one location to another. This allows us to house these individuals and to reclaim our freeways," said Mayor Dyer.

Caltrans says it has litter crews that go up and clean along medians and freeways, but those crews are not permitted to enter homeless encampments.

Elizabeth Yelton, the Public Information Officer for Caltrans District 6, explained that if there's even small evidence that someone might be living in a particular area, those crews aren't allowed to touch the trash there.

However, Caltrans says there are other hazmat crews that are able to pick up trash directly from homeless camps.

Consistent with CDC guidance to prevent community spread of COVID-19, Caltrans is proceeding with encampment cleanups if there is an immediate safety concern or threat to critical infrastructure. We will continue to work with cities and other partners to move people into safer situations as available," said Caltrans.

"The department also continues to work with local agencies to provide those living in the encampments with resources for safer living situations as available in an effort to keep the individuals and the freeways safe.

"We can't used to homeless people living in our neighborhoods, we can't get used to trash in our neighborhoods, we can't get used to seeing graffiti on our walls and our fences. It's time we reclaim our neighborhoods and reclaim our freeways," said Mayor Dyer.

The Mayor also has further plans to beautify the city.

"Neighborhood cleanups, going into neighborhoods through neighborhood blitzes. Repairing the streets, the sidewalks, planting trees, removing trees, trimming trees. Cleaning up the area, bringing in volunteers to do the cleanup, painting fences - whatever it takes for neighborhoods to feel good about themselves and the people that live there."

Caltrans says it resumed trash collection in June, after having been shut down for a few months to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now, it's following CDC guidelines to try to mitigate the impacts of trash and debris at homeless encampments, while still staying as safe as possible.

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"Caltrans uses a variety of resources for litter abatement besides maintenance forces, including Special Programs People (SPP)-- crews which consists of parolees and veterans who are seeking opportunities to rejoin the workforce. Caltrans also has an Adopt-A-Highway Program (AAH) where members of the public, community groups, organizations, and businesses volunteer to remove litter and provide other roadside services; free to the people of California."

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