Visalia residents tackle increase in the areas homeless population

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Visalia residents came together Monday night to try to find a solution to the rise in the area’s homelessness.

Dozens of community members and homeless advocates gathered at the 210 Event Center in Visalia for the venues monthly forum.

They took a closer look at the numbers and what’s being done to bring them down.

The goal was to see what’s working, what’s not and how it’s affecting people.

“This is my life. This is my life,” said one woman as she gripped her back pack, sharing her ongoing struggle with the audience.

Members from the homeless community spoke out to put a face on the crisis plaguing the streets of Visalia.

“The women need another shelter. The women need somewhere to be,” said one woman who used the services to improve her situation.

She said most people are fighting to fix their lives, but the problem is greater than people think.

A panel of local experts used numbers to put the issue into perspective.

They said where there were once 350 people on the streets, there are now 410.

Machael Smith with the Homeless Alliance said the problem is also extending to Porterville, Dinuba and the City of Tulare.

“Visalia represents 62% of the county’s homeless population,” said Smith.

The increases are hitting veterans, victims of domestic violence and those with mental health issues in the community.

The panel discussed the merits of resources and programs, but they also didn’t fail to mention the thousands waiting in line for help.
 
“There is just not enough resources,” said Smith.

Lieutenant Brent Abott with Visalia Police Department’s ‘Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement’ program, or HOPE, were on hand to highlight the challenges of getting people off the streets.

The HOPE program received more than 2,000 calls of break-ins connected to homelessness within it’s first six months in operation.

He said the only options he can offer are arrest or homeless services.

“There’s the folks that want help and those that are resistant,” said lt. Abbott.

Ryan Stillwater with the Visalia Rescue Mission said the meeting was a way for the public to understand the issue further.

“I think people are concerned with what they’re seeing and I think they’re ready for solutions,” said Stillwater.

He said cities like Fresno, through its new camping ordinance, offer similar options to the HOPE program.

He said criminalizing homelessness is not a solution, educating the public is.

“You don’t really need legislation or a new ordinance to ban it because you have a community of people who understand that the downside to that,” said Stillwater.”

Although the panel acknowledged it couldn’t identify one cause or solution for homelessness they said community discussions like this do help start an important conversation.

They said the discussion helped bring awareness to the need for more investment in local services.

Some members of the community in attendance offered to help however they could, some explored the option of renting extra rooms to help with housing needs.

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