Tulare homeless man, dog killed by train

40-year-old man and his dog killed by train Monday morning, highlighting need for solutions to house people experiencing homelessness in Tulare

TULARE – Housing people experiencing homelessness continues to be an issue in Tulare, and the consequences of the delays in finding solutions keep adding up, as a man and his dog were struck and killed by a train Monday morning in Tulare.

The incident occurred just before 8 a.m. near the intersection of Cross Avenue and J Street, where a 40-year-old Tulare man and his dog were seen struggling on the tracks before they were struck and killed by a train. Officers on the scene indicated that the victim lived in an adjacent homeless encampment on railroad property. Dave Clevenger, contracted executive for faith-based nonprofit Lighthouse Rescue Mission, who’s working to provide shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Tulare, said solutions can’t come sooner.

“It’s horrible is what it is,” Clevenger said, “and yet, we can’t build the stuff fast enough to get people out of these situations.”

Lighthouse Rescue Mission is currently in negotiations with Tulare to purchase around 30,000 square feet of land at 325 N. West Ave, for which Clevenger said they plan to build more shelters like the 16-bed pocket courtyard community at 214 H Street. The units at the new site would be smaller at 96 square feet, but have the same potential to become permanent housing as H Street counterparts.

“It’s basically one bedroom of those units over there on H Street, but you can put them in a lot faster,” Clevenger said. “They’re a lot more temporary for now, but they are built to the same standard. So down the road, what you can do is configure them back together as one full big unit. They’re much faster to put in for the temporary use, and that is kind of the idea for the West address.”

The idea behind the pocket courtyard communities is to use factory-built homes to provide temporary housing that with additional funding can quickly be turned into a permanent housing solution. The philosophy behind the smaller communities is to operate much like an emergency shelter. Simply provide a place where people can come in at 6 p.m., have a safe place to spend the night, access to hygiene services and then depart in the morning, while Lighthouse works to connect people to other integrated services, be it mental health or job placement.

“People who are partaking of those services become a little community that supports one another, self-police and really start becoming a part of something that’s pretty good for them,” Clevenger said. “In a smaller type of setting, you can encourage ownership and buy-in.”

Clevenger said that they have made an offer for the land at 325 N. West Avenue, but as of the latest negotiations in closed session at the May 18 council meeting, no action has been taken.

At the May 18 meeting, Tulare resident Kayla Nichols addressed the council regarding homelessness in her neighborhood. She said her home shares a wall with Bender Park, and a homeless encampment was in the park for the last six months or so.

“It was a real issue. It got resolved this week by the grace of god, there was a little bit of a loophole there,” Nichols said. “It feels like the homeless crisis has tripled if not quadrupled since COVID began.”

As of press time, it is unclear what the loophole was that allowed Tulare PD to remove the homeless encampment from the park. Nichols said the issue of homelessness in Tulare should be front and center when it comes to where the money goes, the problem solving and making the community a better place.

“I want my son to be able to walk to school, to walk to that park without being able to worry about what he’s stepping in, what he’s walking in, who’s there—it should be a safe place,” Nichols said. “If the bigger governments aren’t going to help us, it’s our job to find ways to mitigate that issue. I want to be involved.”

Nichols’ feelings are not surprising given her proximity to the park, as many of Tulare’s unsheltered population cleared out of the encampments on Highway 99 by CalTrans at the end of February, only after a homeless person was struck and killed by passing cars Feb. 4 when he attempted to cross the freeway near the overpass at Prosperity Avenue. About 75 people experiencing homelessness—previously camping within state jurisdiction along Highway 99—now had nowhere to go, prompting immediate discussion amongst the city council.

City parks are an appealing spot for homeless encampments, as a 2018 appellate court decision barred cities from forcing homeless people out of sleeping in public parks if the city doesn’t have enough low-barrier shelter beds for unsheltered residents. A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in September stated prosecuting someone for sleeping in a public place is cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of that person’s 8th Amendment rights, unless the enforcing agency provides a low-barrier shelter for homeless people to sleep and they refuse to seek shelter there. The term low-barrier refers to a shelter that does not have any restrictions to enter, meaning it does not require those seeking shelter to be sober, participate in a religious program or separate families based on gender.

Tulare is currently nowhere near 205 beds it currently needs to enforce removing people from sleeping in parks, but Lighthouse’s pocket courtyard communities signal a shift in strategy to meet the city’s goal of housing all its homeless. Tulare city code allows for homeless shelters to be built in multi-family zones, streamlining the process with the city, rather than trying to build a larger shelter elsewhere.

City Council will meet June 22 at 6 p.m. for a special meeting to discuss homelessness in Tulare, including reviewing and directing the city’s ad hoc Committee on homelessness, council member Jose Sigala’s list of non-housing homeless initiatives, safe locations for people experiencing homelessness to reside and park their cars and discussion and direction on the set-aside housing funds.

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