VISALIA, Calif. (KSEE) – Amid pushback from some Visalia residents on a low-barrier homeless navigation center set to come to the city, Mayor Steve Nelsen is trying to ease concerns.
“I’m very proud that the city’s working on something for the homeless, but why there?” said a resident during an informational meeting last week.
The 100-bed navigation center is set to operate near homes currently being built and the Visalia Riverway Sports Park.
“There’s a law in the state of California, AB-101, basically called by right, so if your property is zoned by housing, by right you can put a navigation center. Council can’t stop that,” Nelsen said.
A volunteer organization called TC Hope is taking the lead on the project, and in addition to the zoning, the location was also chosen because TC Hope President Judee Berg says the land was donated.
“It’s really intended to provide the support individuals need to move from homeless into permanent housing,” Berg said.
Berg said it won’t just be a center providing meals and a bed, but it’s meant to have services like programs addressing addiction and job training. And while this won’t solve the homeless situation in Visalia, she said it’s a start.
“We are very committed to being good neighbors with this project We’re committed to providing information and being as transparent as we can,” Berg said.
While some residents aren’t happy with the idea of the center being in their neighborhood, others are supportive.
“I’m all for it. I think it’s a great thing. We always want it to be somewhere else. We want to help somebody but we don’t want it here. Well, I do want it here. I want them to get the help that they need so they can be successful citizens here in Visalia, California,” Visalia resident Allegra Quinn said.
Nelsen said it won’t be a walk-up site.
“Our hope team, maybe they’re out and they find somebody, they say ‘hey do you want to go to a bed, you get a shower, you get two meals.’ If they say yes, the hope team will bring them to the navigation center,” Nelsen said.
Nelsen added that having the navigation center there could keep those who are homeless out of the park.
“If we have a bed available at the navigation center, we can now come to someone in the park who’s camping that night. We can go to them and say ‘we have a bed available, do you want to use it?’ If they refuse to use it, we can now move them.”
Nelsen said it’s a 3-year contract with $5 million of funding for the first year and $3 million for the second and third years each. And because the city is contributing money, he said they do have a voice.
“We’re not enamored with this site either. From a personal point of view because I live so close, I’m not enamored with this site either, but I can’t stop that, but I can assure folks I will fight as hard as I can to make sure it’s operated correctly, safely,” Nelsen said.
The project is still in the very early stages, and Nelsen said his guess is that the center could begin operating in around two years.