The Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance Executive Director Miguel Perez says additional funding and programs received due to the pandemic are to thank for decreases in individuals experiencing homelessness
TULARE COUNTY – For only the third time in 10 years the Kings-Tulare Homeless Alliance identified a decrease in the homeless population. This time, surveyors concluded that pandemic related aid was a driving factor housing homeless individuals.
Each year the Kings Tulare Homeless Alliance (TKHA) conducts a Point In Time (PIT) survey in January where volunteers canvass areas of each city in Tulare and Kings County to collect data on those experiencing homelessness. TKHA did not conduct a survey in 2021, so the results from this year are in comparison to 2020’s survey. This year the data shows a 4.7% decline in overall homelessness, but the alliance thinks there are multiple factors that contribute to the minor decrease.
“The data shows a small reduction. And I think it’s very significant, not only so much about the reduction, but just the fact that we didn’t see an increase,” Miguel Perez, Executive Director of the Kings Tulare Homeless Alliance, said. “And it speaks volumes of just the work that our community has been doing in terms of the implementation of new programs that have come online since 2020.”
Chronically homeless in decline
According to the report, the decrease in chronic homelessness was more significant than other areas of the survey. Those experiencing chronic homelessness in Tulare County, went from 420 people in 2020 to 258 in 2022, amounting to a 38.5% decrease.
Perez believes a large reason for this decrease is because of some of the programs that have been created through additional state funding due to the pandemic.
“Those projects kind of took a life of their own and have evolved into some really wonderful opportunities that a lot of our community partners have really engaged in and taken on to implement these programs,” Perez said.
One program in particular Perez mentioned was Project Room Key, which used hotels to stabilize and house at risk individuals or individuals experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. These hotels are now being converted into permanent supportive housing. In addition to Project Room Key, Perez believes The Emergency Housing Voucher Program that was administered through Housing Authority Tulare County, has tremendously helped many individuals as well.
“What I hope we can communicate with our community is that we need to continue allocating these resources and continue looking for more funding sources and more solutions to continue to address this,” Perez said.
Without continued support in terms of programs and funding, Perez believes that gains made in sheltering homeless over the last two years could easily backslide.
This year’s survey included some procedural adjustments that yielded more accurate results. In the past KTHA would host an event called Project Homeless Connect where they would provide services to those experiencing homelessness. The event would allow individuals to engage with the alliance and the alliance would be able to collect data at the same time. However, because of the number of agencies that already provide aid to homeless, and collect data, on a weekly basis, Project Homeless Connect was no longer necessary.
“My biggest assessment of the report is that I think we’re doing some good work as a community, and we just need to continue to come together as a community to address homelessness,” Perez said. “So I think there’s a simple silver-lining that comes out of that particular report with a small decrease, or at least kind of maintaining those that baseline.”
Homeless by city
In Tulare County alone, based on the report, there are 922 people experiencing homelessness, 258 of which are chronically homeless. This number is a 70 person decrease from 2020, but still nearly 100 more than 2019, which reported 819 homeless individuals. This year shows the first decrease since 2016, which went from 636 individuals in 2015 to 631 in 2016. Until now the rate of homelessness has only been growing. As for those individuals who are chronically homeless, the numbers jumped in 2020 from 237 individuals in 2019 to 420 in 2020.
Since 2012, there has been a 62% increase in homelessness, but only a 17% increase since 2017. In Tulare County, of those experiencing homelessness, 24% are ages 45-54 and another 24% accounts for the 35-44 age range as well. Ages 65 years and older, 18-24 and 18 and under account for less than 10% each.
Of those who were surveyed, 50% were non-hispanic/Latinx, 47% Hispanic/Latinx and the remaining 2% are unknown. 75% of those who are experiencing homelessness identify as white and over half are males.
At the individual city level Tulare is one of the few cities that showed an increase in individuals experiencing homelessness, not to mention one of the largest increases in homelessness since 2012. Tulare has seen a 109% increase over the past decade according to the report with 212 individuals reported this year. In 2018, the city reported 115 homeless amounting to an 84% increase between 2018 and 2022. The city experienced a spike in 2015, from 83 people to 135. The numbers dropped in 2016 to 108 individuals and have been steadily growing since then.
On the opposite side of the spectrum for Tulare, the chronically homeless trend has reported a 57 person decrease since 2020. Of the 212, half have reported having a disability, seven are veterans and 147 are males. 30% of those experiencing homelessness are in the age range 45-54 years old, and 27% are 35-44 years old.
As Tulare has seen a huge spike in individuals experiencing homelessness, with the help of City Manager Marc Mondell, the city has engineered a tentative plan for an emergency homeless shelter. The city is currently waiting to hear back on a lease agreement from the county for the desired property for the shelter. Once an agreement between the county and the city is reached, the city will be able to initiate the first of three phases in the emergency homeless shelter plans.
The shelter is slated to be located at the county’s Hillman Campus located on Bardsley Avenue. The first phase will be a temporary encampment phase. The second phase the city is calling the bridging shelter phase, moving into the third phase which will include the final supportive amenities.
The current visualization of the completed shelter looks like a 200 bed facility that could easily be scaled into a 400 bed facility if necessary by adding a top bunk to each bed. The shelter would accept all homeless individuals and families and it would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The city would partner with other agencies to ensure adequate provision of services and would also provide internal levels of residency: entry, participation and recovery.
In Visalia, 496 people are experiencing homelessness, 108 of which are chronically homeless. From 2020 to 2022 there was a 71 person decrease and this year’s numbers have even decreased below 2019’s number of 481 and is only seven more than 2018. Visalia’s chronically homeless trend is the lowest it has been in five years. In 2016 only 78 individuals were recorded and has been trending up since then reaching an eight year high in 2020 of 167.
Overall, the city has only seen a 1.5% increase since 2018 and a 34% increase since 2012. In the KTHA’s research, of the 469 individuals, 300 are males, 170 individuals have a disability and 33 are veterans. Almost 60% of individuals experiencing homeless in Visalia range from 35-64: 20% are 25-44 years old, 20% are 45-54 years old and 19% are 55-64 years old.
The city of Visalia is also in the works of building a homeless shelter. In June of 2021 the Visalia City Council awarded just under $5 million in funding to Community Services Employment Training (CSET) and approved agreements for the nonprofit to develop and operate the shelter. The 100-bed facility is being built on three acres east of Riverway Sports Park across Highway 63 (Dinuba Boulevard).
Porterville reported similar numbers to Tulare, but saw a one person decrease from last year with 212 this year. Porterville’s numbers have been steadily growing for the last decade, trending at an increased year followed by a decreased year since 2012. From the 2018 report, there is only an 8% reported increase. As for those who are chronically homeless, the city did see a greater decrease from 2020 at 111 to 78 this year.
Of the 212 individuals experiencing homelessness, 100 are disabled, six are veterans and 124 are male. 31% of individuals are in the age range 35-44, and 25% are 45-54 years old. The race that is most predominant is white with 76% of individuals followed by 7% of both American Indian/ Alaskan Native and those who are unknown.
How they gather the info
Each year, volunteers from local jurisdictions like law enforcement, the faith-based community, non-profit partners and community stakeholders gather to canvass locations where people experiencing homelessness tend to congregate. The volunteers then conduct a brief survey with each individual asking questions such as length of time homeless, main cause of homelessness, barriers to housing as well as demographic information. This year KTHA added the category of “questioning” and “gender not singularly male or female,” as well as “what is your sexual orientation.”
Perez thinks it was important to add these questions to collect additional data. He said the alliance is carefully assessing the subpopulations of those individuals who are experiencing homelessness.
“We want to make sure that we continue on tracking that in future years to ensure that they are being served and that our programs are accessible to all individuals,” Perez said.
Even without their usual Project Homeless Connect, the alliance still used information from the Homeless Management Information System, a web-based system that collates data by county. This system is beneficial to KTHA because it allows for county wide information they would not normally be able to have access to.