Tulare city council votes to purchase property for a temporary homeless encampment encouraging unhoused individuals to move away from the railroad tracks
TULARE – The homeless population may seem unmitigated in the city of Tulare, but that doesn’t mean city staff or council are sitting on their hands. The city council will have the opportunity to buy property for a temporary encampment as soon as Tuesday.
The location for the proposed temporary encampment will be south of Bardsley and east of K Street in Tulare city limits, and will be taken up by the council on Sept. 20. By purchasing this property, it allows the city to provide a safe and sustainable exit for those experiencing homelessness and it allows the city to evaluate the process and share their data with others. If the city decides to purchase the property, they expect to have the temporary encampment operational by next January.
“We are excited about this opportunity because we believe it will help to save lives, provide more sanitary living conditions for homeless individuals and remove unsightly encampments while pursuing permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals,” city manager Marc Mondell said.
Tulare is also working on a long term homeless shelter in an adjacent parcel, but that property is in the county. Until the city can hammer out a deal with county staff, a temporary encampment is their most immediate solution.
The property will cost the city $360,000, but it will allow city staff to begin work leveling the parcel and putting up fencing to get the temporary encampment ready as soon as possible. Council also has the option to deny the purchase of the property in which the city would then maintain the status quo.
“The city has received numerous complaints from the community regarding the homeless encampments and related challenges and therefore we are pursuing a permanent homeless shelter at the Hillman Center,” Mondell said. “Unfortunately, it will take 12-18 months to complete the shelter and therefore the city needs an interim solution, hence the temporary homeless encampment area.”
There are many reasons the city of Tulare desires to create this temporary encampment. The most urgent reason is preservation of life, according to Mondell. Currently in Tulare, one of the larger encampments is located on the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) corridor along Inyo Avenue and Centennial Park. According to the staff report, there have been 13 fatal train versus pedestrian accidents over the past few years including two on the same day in July of this year.
In addition to cleaning up current encampment areas around Tulare, creating the temporary encampment would give the city an opportunity to gain insight prior to operations of the emergency homeless shelter.
The staff report also says this would provide the opportunity to “gain buy-in from homeless individuals to occupy the homeless shelter once completed.” The temporary location is right across the street from the tentative permanent location, which is located on the county’s Hillman Health Campus on the corner of Bardsley and K street. It will allow those who take advantage of the temporary location to watch the whole process from start to finish.
“If [those experiencing homelessness] are comfortable coming to this site, they can be part of the process, they can watch the shelter and construction,” Mondell said. “We will give them tours, we’ll be like, ‘here’s what it’s going to be like,’ and we can get them kind of excited about the shelter.”
What the encampment will look like
Staff plans to bring a more detailed plan back to council at the Oct. 18 city council meeting if council chooses to approve the purchase of the property. The conceptual plan is subject to change, but as it stands now, the two acre temporary encampment itself, will provide space for up to 174 homeless individuals. There will be five rows hosting anywhere from 12 to 20 demarcated lots. Individuals will be given a 12 foot by 12 foot demarcated area to put up their tent and keep their personal belongings. If items fall out of their area, they will be thrown away. Decomposed granite will make up a driveway around and through the area.
In efforts to have some uniformity, Mondell said the city is also considering providing individuals with tents as well as free dog leashes. According to Mondell, there will be a common area with an electrical charging station, picnic tables with umbrellas, a fire pit and a grill. Mondell said the policy will be that items in the encampment will be replaced once. If it is stolen or destroyed a second time, there will not be any further replacements.
Individuals will also be given the opportunity to store their items in storage containers provided by the city at the location. There will be a mobile shower facility and bathrooms that will be moved across the street once the permanent emergency shelter is completed.
In the middle of the two acre lot there will be a “caretaker.” Mondell said the hope is to have a city employee volunteer to live in a mobile unit to have eyes on the encampment. Their job would not be to police the area or break up fights, but only hear and see what is going on and notify the appropriate authorities to handle the situation.
Cost to the city
The immediate cost to purchase the property is $360,000 plus an additional $5,000 deposit. Staff is recommending the city use money that was set aside from the city’s 2021-2022 budget surplus to be used for issues relating to homelessness.
According to the staff report, the current estimate for capital cost of the temporary encampment including land acquisition, site preparation, sanitation, on-site caretaker facility, amenities and transportation equals $650,000. The city anticipates recovering half of the initial cost once the permanent emergency shelter is operational and the property is sold.
Additionally, some of the costs, such as the shower and bathroom facilities will be a cost that will be moved to the permanent shelter when the time comes.