Tulare issues no trespassing ordinance near railroad tracks

(Rigo Moran)

The city of Tulare enforces no trespassing ordinance along Union Pacific Railroad property, Tulare Cares Temporary encampment reaches full capacity

TULARE – Less than a week after the city of Tulare began enforcing their no trespassing ordinance on Union Pacific Railroad property, the city’s temporary encampment has reached full capacity.

On May 10, the city of Tulare’s temporary encampment reached full capacity with 202 individuals occupying all 179 available tents. And according to deputy city manager Josh McDonnell encampments along the railroad tracks are all cleared up. As the city continues to mitigate issues surrounding those experiencing homelessness, city staff and council believe they have a moral obligation to help their fellow citizens. Now that the encampment is full, the city council recently approved a contract with Salt + Light for a meal delivery service to the encampment.

“My hope is that the citizens are happy. That the ones that are out there will see a change and have hope,” city manager Marc Mondell said. “We’ve now reduced the likelihood of further suicides and my hope is that the people that are in the community elsewhere will be patient.”

The city has been educating individuals experiencing homelessness along the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) property for sometime. The city began enforcing the no trespassing ordinance on May 4 and 5 which meant the individuals who were camping along the tracks could no longer do so. Mondell said it is time for the city to enforce this ordinance and work toward a solution. The ordinance states the purpose of the ordinance is to add restrictions on camping in the right of way for railroads and change the authority for enforcement.

From the city manager’s perspective, the city has many obligations to their citizens, taxpayers as well as the individuals who are experiencing homelessness. The issue is even more pressing as the city has seen 14 deaths by suicide on the railroad tracks, four with in the last 12 months and arguably more if nothing is done.

“[The city] has, I would argue, probably a moral responsibility to deal with that issue, which is why we adopted the ordinance,” Mondell said. “So now we have an ordinance, and we have the obligation to enforce the [it].”

Now that the city has cleaned up the railroad tracks, residents should be able to see the work the city is putting in to help the community. In addition to the moral obligation, Mondell said the city also has an obligation to protect its taxpayers. He explained that when individuals are hit by a train and die, family members or other parties come forward and beg the question of who is responsible? In turn the city is sued. This has happened to the city, and Mondell said when the city is sued, they have to write a check which is essentially in turn funded by the city’s taxpayers.

“We have to protect the taxpayers, because if we get sued, we have to write a big check. And where does that come from? The taxpayers,” Mondell said. “So legally from a risk perspective, we have to remove that ongoing liability.”

The third point Mondell brought to the table was the question of, how long do the citizens have to wait for a solution. For those who live near the railroad tracks, their property value has most likely diminished, some homeowners fear for their safety and the cleanliness of the city is not where it needs to be.

“It’s time to clean up,” Mondell said. “We have a very clear strategy, we’ve verbalized that to everyone, we’ve given everyone plenty of advance notice so there’s no surprises here.”

The majority of individuals who were residing along the railroad tracks have decided to move to the temporary encampment. Those in the encampment have access to one meal each day, showers, toilets and other minor necessities.

On May 2, the Tulare City Council approved a contract with Salt + Light for a meal delivery service to the temporary encampment. The contract was for $400 a week to have the nonprofit take over finding and providing one meal each day to those in the encampment. Mayor Terry Sayre was originally the facilitator and had found individual groups to supply food every day except for six days each month. It is now Salt+Light’s responsibility to find and facilitate different groups to supply food. It was also convenient for Salt+Light to take on the responsibility as they were already contracted as one of the non-profits who supply food to the encampment three days a week.

“It just made a lot of sense to have one entity providing that coordination, and that follow up,” Sayre said. “So it just eliminated all of that me being the middle person and put it into one concise, consistent contract of service.”

Those staying in the encampment must have a tie to the city of Tulare and if individuals do not they are put on a wait list. As the encampment has reached capacity, individuals who would like a spot are now put on a waitlist event if they do have that local tie to Tulare. McDonnell said he does not foresee it staying at full capacity. Once some of the individuals settle in, they may realize they don’t want to be there and move out, opening the door for others. McDonnell said he thinks there may be anywhere around five openings at all times.

“This is a transient population, so on a weekly basis we see quite a few tents vacated, and folks move on,” McDonnell said. “So we anticipate being able to backfill those and pretty much stay right on in terms of being able to accommodate the demand.”

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