The Tulare County Department of Health and Humans Services Agency (HHSA) held two listening sessions during the last week in February to address citizen concerns for the new Mental Health Wellness and Recovery Center, located at 1223 S. Lovers Lane in Visalia. The new center comes in accordance of mandates of the Mental Health Services Act, passed by voters in 2004. Citizens in the area of the center at the corner of Lovers Lane and Tulare Avenue have expressed concerns regarding safety for their neighborhood, and the children who attend Pinkham Elementary School, located on Tulare Avenue.
The panel representing Tulare County consisted of Supervisor Kuyler Crocker, Jason T. Britt, HHSA agency director, John Hells, deputy CAO, Capital Projects, Dr. Timothy Durick, HHSA health director, Christi Lupkes, division manager, Mental Health Managed Care, and Colleen Overholt, LMFT, Kings View.
“We want to make sure we are good neighbors,” said Crocker, during his opening statements at the first listening session. “I am committed to us making sure we are good neighbors, and this is strictly a listening session so that we can get as much feedback from you all and from others tomorrow night, to make sure that if there are opportunities for us to change the operations – for us to make safety enhancements, etc. . . .We will have ongoing conversations, as well, and I’ve directed that to staff, in our board meetings, and in private meetings, as well . . . that is why we are here tonight, to make sure that we can minimize as much as possible, the impacts.”
Some 50 citizens attended the Tuesday night session. On Wednesday night, there were about 30 in attendance, and it was estimated that about half of those had attended the previous night’s session as well.
In response to the Valley Voice article, “Listening Sessions Set Regarding Visalia Wellness & Recovery Center,” posted to the Voice’s website, John Sarsfield asked “If these people aren’t dangerous then why all the security?”
In response to this, and to other concerns of security regarding the intent of constructing a seven-foot fence, and security guards on duty during opening hours, Agency Director Britt said, “The fencing has been proposed by HHSA to enclose the vacant lot south of the building, wherein a garden and outdoor space will be placed, as well as landscaping to beautify the area surrounding the area. The fencing would not enclose the whole location.
“Security is standard operating procedure at most of our facilities; however, security officer(s), security cameras, and appropriate lighting were proposed to ensure compliance with the no loitering and no smoking outside designated smoking area signs.”
Following the sessions, David McElroy commented on the Voice’s website “Well, the ‘listening’ sessions have occurred, so now the board can do what they will, ignoring anything that was said. Their paychecks will just keep rolling in for nothing.”
Britt responded to the comment, “HHSA is analyzing feedback from the community from the listening sessions, to determine next steps, with the goal of being a good neighbor.”
Plans are for the center to be open weekdays from 10am-7pm, to align with public transit schedules.
According to the center fact sheet, the center, “will not be a treatment clinic, a methadone clinic, medication service provider, or a residential program. It will not serve individuals who are not yet within their wellness and recovery journey, or those just entering into or not yet engaged in mental health treatment. It will not serve sex offenders or parolees. Nor will it offer mental health assessment or outpatient therapeutic treatment; such as diagnosis, therapy, and medication services.
“It will serve individuals who are within or advanced in their wellness and recovery journey and will be an alcohol and drug-free environment.”
Instead, the county could offer support groups, educational classes and vocational training at the new facility. Clients could and will be advised to utilize budgeting workshops, cooking classes, arts and crafts for self-expression, library and computer stations for promotion of education and employment, employment support services for job search, job readiness, and retention, social and recreational engagement opportunities, and peer-to-peer and family groups to promote wellness, recovery, and resiliency skills.
The county received a Mental Health Services Act grant, covering the $1.2 million expense for the purchase of the property and escrow, which closed in January. The building is owned by the county and the center will move forward. However, county representatives continue to listen to citizen concerns on the matter, in order to assure that it moves forward in the most cooperative, and advantageous way possible.