Terra Bella seeks help against Ever Well patients
Terra Bella locals seek solutions from county, state officials to deal with patients from an Ever Well mental health facility trespassing on private property
TERRA BELLA – Terra Bella community members went beyond venting their frustrations over the nearby Ever Well mental health facility. After meeting with various officials this week in Tulare County they are moving on to taking action.
Community members of Terra Bella shared in their mutual anger at Carl Smith Middle School on Tuesday, June 7. They met specifically to address the ongoing safety concerns of the Ever Well mental health facility. Residents concluded they will combat the issues by continuing to file complaints at the state and county levels while they wait for the State Department of Social Security to release the results of their investigation.
Tulare County District 5 Board Supervisor Dennis Townsend explained how the facility can open in a residential area without authorization from the county.
“These residential treatment facilities exist where the state said they can plop a residential treatment facility right in the middle of an existing residential area, as long as they treat no more than six people,” Townsend said.
Residents have been filing complaints regarding the mental health facility reporting patients coming onto private property and walking around without supervision. Community members shared their concerns and frustrations at the meeting ranging from Ever Well patients harassing children at the local school to breaking and entering houses in the area.
Concerns continue to grow since the current issues have been going on for a year. According to Townsend the facility currently has 18 clients and the state has licensed Ever Well to bring up to 100 clients to their facility.
Locals are afraid of what might happen if the facility does choose to bring more patients to Terra Bella. With so many patients already roaming the roads and school and some patients who are reportedly sex offenders, community members are worried about what it might look like to have more Ever Well clients.
“It’s been mentioned several times that there are sex offenders at the facility. So far the research found that there was one that did not register. That’s something that’s being turned over to the sheriff’s office,” Townsend said.
Taking action: Townsend shares the plan for change
The meeting had a main panel that included Townsend, Lt. Joseph England of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, and resident coordinator of the meeting Susan Craig.
Townsend explained that it is essential that residents who want to make a difference cover their bases at the state, county and local levels. Community members have been actively trying to find solutions by calling Senator Melissa Hurtado’s (D-Calif.) office and the Department of Social Services and scheduling community meetings.
The county is filing a notice of non-compliance over zoning violations and plans to figure out its next step after the investigation is finished. However, the community is putting together a petition to turn into the planning commission.
If the issue is taken on by the planning commission, they will hold at least one public hearing in which they will notify all residents living within 300 feet of the property line around Ever Well.
Craig shared a number of resources and discussed the findings of their research conducted on Ever Wells so far. She presented the deeds and zoning information of the property from 1953-2003. Good Shepherd Lutheran Home was the facility using the property before Ever Well. Good Shepherd was granted a special use permit in an agricultural zone for the purpose of treating children in 2003. There are no records of a new special use permit being granted since.
“We have now issued a letter of nonconformity on this use permit. And now really being used as an adult, mental health and reentry type of facility doesn’t really fit that original category that’s been rehabbed several times in several different iterations,” Townsend said.
Townsend and England reiterated that locals should call every time they see Ever Well clients wandering for the safety of everyone.
“Calling the sheriff’s department is great evidence,” Townsend said. “It’s specific because we can say the community has made 100 calls in the last month and that really helps people to make determinations.”
One resident shared that their church tried to avoid putting up “No Trespassing” signs out of a desire to make everyone feel welcome but felt forced to do so after one patient showed up to throw bibles and drink the hand sanitizer.
“It’s unsafe, we would rather have the phone call to either get them back to the facility before something bad happens,” England said.
The sheriff’s department has handed out close to 75 “No Trespassing” signs to the community. England explained that the sheriff’s department can remove the Ever Well patients from private property if they have proof the patient was trespassing and are willing to sign a citizen’s arrest.
This was the community’s second meeting on the matter after hosting their first on Thursday, May 18. The community has also put together a Facebook page to share resources and continue working towards a solution and is planning to reconvene sometime in the next two to three weeks.