Tulare ready to put stake in homeless encampment

Tulare purchases two acre parcel for temporary homeless encampment, begins taking first steps to work toward completion by January 2023

TULARE –  Tulare is ready to stake their claim on an encampment that will move the city’s homeless population off the tracks and into tents by next year.

The Tulare City Council approved the $360,000 purchase of a two acre parcel of land south of Bardsley and east of K Street in Tulare city limits, at their Tuesday, Sept. 20 meeting. The city plans to turn the two acres into a temporary homeless encampment by January 2023. The conceptual plan for the property is subject to change, but as it stands now, the two acre temporary encampment will provide space for up to 174 homeless individuals until the permanent facility is completed

“This is the short term solution from management’s perspective, to try to deal with the encampments that we have currently [along the Union Pacific Railroad],” city manager Marc Mondell said.

Now that the property has been purchased, the city will begin preparations for the encampment. The city will begin working with its partners to see what can be done to make the site more appealing to homeless individuals, by getting first hand information. Operational plans are not set in stone as to how the encampment will be run. City staff will bring a more solidified plan to council on Oct. 18 for approval. 

The city plans to prioritize homeless individuals who have signed up for the city’s Encampment Resolution Funding (ERF) program, and have them move to the temporary encampment first. Currently, Tulare’s prioritized encampment area is near the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) corridor from Centennial Park to Inyo Avenue. There are currently 66 individuals who are signed up for the ERF program in that prioritized area.

The ERF program is a voluntary program for homeless individuals in a city designated area that provides help for those experiencing homelessness. The ERF program is funded through a $1.5 million grant secured by the city. This program brings in outside sources and helps individuals from where they are on the streets, to getting healthy and finding housing. 

The staff report from the Sept. 20 meeting states the proposed temporary encampment area “would provide these individuals with the opportunity to relocate without the inherent dangers of being adjacent to the UPRR tracks, and [it is] where ERF Program services can be provided.”

According to Mondell, the ERF grant funding has allowed the city to partner with five outside non-profit organizations to come and provide services, showers, medical care, food and counseling, to those who need it about three to four times a week within that prioritized encampment area. The ERF program is available for those who are interested in recovery and ultimately sustainable living.

Mondell said the city will now begin preparations for the encampment. One of those preparations is having ERF staff survey homeless individuals in the program on things such as what they would be looking for in an encampment in order to move there.

“[Service providers with the ERF program] agreed to take the conceptual plan, and some of [the city’s] thoughts about how it would operate, to the homeless individuals to talk with them to get their feedback,” Mondell said. 

The city is looking for feedback on whether or not some individuals feel comfortable with or without a fence. Another concept is the issue of space and how comfortable individuals are with being right near one another, or if they would prefer more space between lots. This is important, because the city cannot force anyone to move.  

“If they have some recommendations that are easy for us to accommodate, that’ll make it more likely they will be willing to voluntarily come here, we’ll do it,” Mondell said. 

Once the city determines the first step, they will begin leveling the ground as soon as they can. If the majority of individuals are okay with having a fence, the city will hire a company to begin that process as soon as possible. 

Mondell said that by and large, several individuals experiencing homelessness have presented many of the same concerns to the city. One concern is they want a place to stay for a substantial amount of time, they do not want to continue to be asked to move. Another concern is safety, as some individuals do not feel safe around others. And the other concern is about the basic services provided. 

According to Mondell, the city is in the process of looking to apply for a second round of ERF funding to allow for services to be provided to additional individuals who wish to relocate to the temporary encampment. By beginning with the first 66 individuals, the city will be able to learn what does and does not work and make improvements from there. 

On the premises, there will be demarcated lots provided, 24/7 access to bathrooms, picnic tables, barbeque pits and basic needs. The city has discussed providing individuals with tents, as well as dog leashes. The city has also discussed the possibility of providing individuals with the opportunity to store their items in storage containers. 

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.

Additionally, staff has discussed the idea of having a “caretaker.” Mondell said 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. This is something that will come closer to solidification at the next council meeting.

The Tulare Chamber of Commerce is hosting an informational forum in partnership with the city to inform the community on the city’s efforts to address homelessness. Mondell and the city’s finance director will be speaking at the forum. In addition to learning about the city’s plans, information about the upcoming election and Measure Y will also be discussed. This forum will take place on Monday, September 26, at 4 p.m. at Galaxy Theatre in Tulre.

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