Homeless settle into Tulare camp

Tulare city council approves rules and regulations for Tulare Cares Temporary Encampment Area, 37 individuals move in on Jan. 25

TULARE – After another individual lost their life to the train tracks in Tulare, the need for the temporary homeless encampment is more important than ever. 

At the Jan. 17 Tulare City Council meeting, members of the council approved the rules and regulations in preparation for opening the Tulare Cares Temporary Encampment Area. After purchasing the two acre parcel of land last September, the city opened the door to the encampment on Jan. 25 allowing the first 37 individuals to move in, and away from the Union Pacific Railroad. This is a groundbreaking endeavor  for all parties involved. 

“This is brand new for everybody. There’s going to be a learning curve, and the folks from the city and from the county and all partnering agencies, all understand that common sense is going to have to be used as we get into this new endeavor,” deputy city manager Josh McDonnell said. 

The city opened the gates for the encampment this week, and McDonnell said the remainder of the individuals will continue to move in throughout the next few weeks. The temporary encampment is located in the northeast corner of south O Street and east Walnut Avenue in Tulare. The city’s goal in creating the encampment is to increase the safety and health of those individuals who are experiencing homelessness. It will allow for those individuals to receive care for their immediate needs while also empowering them with the tools necessary to navigate a way back to a healthy, productive and self-sufficient life according to the staff report.

Those staying on the encampment premises will have to follow three community standards of behavior and no criminal behavior will be tolerated. One, no violence toward yourself or others; two, no illegal substances or paraphernalia on the premises or in a two block radius; and three, no stealing. According to the rules and regulations, these rules of conduct will be enforced on a “one strike and you’re out basis.” 

However, those in the encampment area must follow a series of rules. For starters, in addition to being enrolled in the ERF program, they will have to sign a “good neighbor agreement.” According to McDonnell that agreement is essentially following the golden rule, “treat others the way you wish to be treated.” In addition, to the good neighbor policy, all residents are enrolled in the accountability partner program. The program helps to ensure that all guests feel welcome and connected. It also ensures they are given access to resources to help achieve permanent housing, medical, psychiatric and addiction services in an efficient manner according to the rules and regulations.

Also created as a result of the encampment, is the HALO team, or the Homeless Assistants Liaison Officers. This team is made of individuals who are specially trained to handle the community, city and other service providers. 

Individuals who take advantage of what the city has to offer, will have a plethora of programs available to them, but will not be required to participate in any of them. The Tulare Cares service delivery model “emphasizes provision of the basic needs to unhoused individuals to get them off the streets.” The standards for those who live in the area cover a broad range. The city is aware that some issues may turn up after the individuals move in, but they will deal with those things as they come. 

All guests must be 18 years or older and must go through an initial check-in process. They will be given a tent from the city and prohibited to use a different one. Only one tent is allowed per campsite, guests are prohibited from moving from their designated spot and no additional guests are allowed. Only one vehicle is allowed per campsite and overnight sleeping in vehicles is prohibited. The city will allow one animal per campsite and provide a four foot leash and stake or tether.

Personal items must be kept contained on each individual’s 12 by 15 foot campsite, or in a storage area, otherwise the items will be disposed of by city staff. Fires are restricted to designated areas and no trash or debris is allowed to be burned. All residents must agree to obey fire and safety regulations and deliberate damage to city owned property is prohibited and not tolerated.

Sobriety is not required while on site, but no illegal drug use is allowed on the premises at any time. Guests must agree to not use or sell drugs or illegal substances on site; however, cannabis and alcohol are allowed. They are only allowed to be consumed in each individual’s “assigned tent area,” and not permitted in common areas. According to the rules and regulations, “any individual found to have used or sold drugs or any illegal substances will be immediately removed and permanently banned from the facility.”

There is no length of stay limit for the temporary residents. The purpose of the temporary encampment is to get those experiencing homelessness away from the railroad tracks. It is a temporary solution to manage the crisis, while the permanent shelter is being planned and built. As of 2024, residents will be moved into the permanent shelter. Until then, residents of the encampment will have the responsibility to meet with a case manager each week as well as participate in weekly community cleaning and trash pick up.

The site will have basic amenities including a tent provided by the city, running water, portable toilets, storage and more. Only individuals who are invited into the encampment area are allowed to stay. To start, those who are invited are a part of the Encampment Resolution Fund (ERF) program. This program is a grant funded program working to get those experiencing homelessness into permanent housing. It is a voluntary program run by city staff. Once all who are a part of the program, which is around 90 individuals, according to city manager Marc Mondell at the city council meeting, then the remainder of the spots will be open on a first come first serve basis. The encampment will hold no more than 139 campsites. 

The city plans to work to mitigate the off site impacts of the encampment site. One way is a 500-foot buffer zone that has been established around the site. In that buffer, no drugs or abusive language will be allowed. It will be monitored by the deployment of the city’s HOT team as well as the availability of a 24-hour hotline for neighbors to call. For general information during business hours, 559-684-4310; for general information after hours and non-emergent calls, 559-687-2288; and emergency calls 911.

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