Visalia City Council cancels proposed campsites for the city’s homeless


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Porta pots and sanitation stations have been installed in three locations with the aim of encouraging hygiene and curbing the spread of the new coronavirus in the homeless settlements of Tulare.

A proposal by a Visalia city councilor to convert part of the city’s properties into campsites for homeless people met resistance from other city leaders this week.

At the March 15 meeting, City Councilor Greg Collins called for the city to explore the possibility of erecting two campgrounds to support Visalia’s growing homeless population.

The campsites, Collins argued, would work in tandem with a low-barrier navigation center that the city has committed to building by 2023. He said a shelter on its own is unlikely to meet the needs of the city. all homeless residents of the city.

Under Collins’ proposal, the campgrounds would provide porta pots, sanitation stations, and services; however, it is not clear who would operate the temporary shelter and at what cost.

Rosendo Hernandez, a resident of the Tule River encampment near Porterville, speaks fondly of their concerns following notices from the Tulare County Sheriff's Department to leave the area with no place to go.  Hernandez has lived in the area for about six months and has been homeless for about 17 years.

“I think it should be very strict and managed by the city, which I think doesn’t take a lot of effort,” he said. “It’s like any other campsite that we have all benefited from in the forest service or in national parks.”

“When you go to any campground… there are rules, and they’re usually managed by the camp manager, or potentially our police department,” the city councilor said.

Officers, however, bristled at the idea. Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar supports a low-barrier navigation center with services, he said, but not an unmanaged “tent city”.

“In other communities where (campgrounds) have happened, there are usually crime issues. Do we already have some of these issues? Of course,” the chief said. “But I think a navigation center, which we’re already doing, is better; supportive housing is a better solution. And that’s what we would support.”

The Kaweah Delta Street Medicine team is testing people for COVID-19 at a homeless camp in Tulare on Friday, June 5, 2020.

Collins spoke to skeptics of the camping model, saying setting up a campsite and securing it with a chain link fence would be “relatively straightforward.”

“And if that doesn’t work, the good thing about a campground is taking the chain link fence down, cleaning up the campground and having a viable property,” he said. .

City Councilor Brian Poochigian said he agreed with Collins “in theory” but was adamant the city should not be involved in the management of the sites.

“I agree that if we had a place for people to settle down it would be a lot better than along the highway,” said Poochigian.

Councilor Brett Taylor disagreed with the proposal. He said the costs would quickly get out of hand and the city would have to focus on its current plans to build a traditional navigation center.

“I think we already have some really good direction that we as a board have decided to go ahead and come up with over $ 2 million,” he said. “We don’t have the money to do it … We have already committed our funds to be able to set up a legitimate real estate project.”

Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen agreed, adding that other cities that have tried the camping model have encountered issues including litigation.

The mayor specifically took issue with Collins’ suggestion of chain-link fencing around any potential site.

“It bothers me when you say you’re going to put up a chain link fence and fence them off,” he said. “I am going back to the internment camps. It may be overzealous, but it bothers me.”

Deputy city manager Leslie Caviglia said her initial research showed that campsites “can be very expensive to do well” and “they don’t seem to work in the long run.”

The council ultimately voted 3-2 to drop a further investigation into the possibility of building a campsite for the city’s homeless population. Collins and Poochigian supported continuing the conversation.

Collins has passionately denounced the perceived inaction of his fellow council members, saying it will likely be two or three years before the land is cleared on the city’s navigation hub.

“We have been working on it for eight years and not much has happened in terms of helping the population (without housing). I think a well-run campsite can solve the problems,” he said. -he declares. “It doesn’t have to be expensive, but no decision is a decision.”

“We, the board members, will continue to receive phone calls, and in our public poll, that will be the main question of ‘Why isn’t the board doing something? “I just want to say it’s because we (the board) don’t have the courage to go ahead and start solving this problem.”

The Kaweah Delta Street Medicine team is testing people for COVID-19 at a homeless camp in Tulare on Friday, June 5, 2020.

Joshua Yeager covers water, agriculture, parks and housing for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @VTD_Joshy. Receive alerts and stay up to date on all things Tulare County for as little as $ 1 per month. Subscribe today.


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Sally J. Minick

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