Private Group assigned to come up with solutions gets to work immediately
After expressing frustration over nothing being done for three years of just talking, the Visalia City Council voted 4-1 to appoint Action Group on Homelessness to tackle the problem. The vote also allows the group to have access to city resources if and when needed.
Mayor Bob Link supported appointing a private group but was the lone ”no” vote because he wanted them to report back to the city council more often than was discussed.
One of the organizers, Harold Myers, said during the September 3 city work session, “Nineteen well qualified and caring Visalians pledge to work on the homeless problem at no cost to the city. We just ask to work with your staff. Our goal is to develop long-term private partnerships for every citizen with a home and without a home.”
That was enough to convince Council Member Phil Cox to make a motion to appoint the Action Group on Homelessness to take charge. The other two options on the table were to assign the issue to the Citizens Advisory Committee or to create a new city task force.
Link voiced his frustration over the fact that the city council started talking about forming a task force in July and it took until September just to get the item on the agenda. All the council members made comments on how slow the gears of city hall turn even when faced with a chronic and urgent problem.
Council Member Steve Nelsen was reluctant to show favoritism to a private entity but recognized the advantages of an independent group over a city-run group.
Nelsen said he asked the chairman of the Tulare County Task Force on Homelessness what it had accomplished over the last two years. To Nelsen’s chagrin, the chairman said the task force had made a budget, hired an advisor, and had learned a lot. The Visalia City Council has a representative on the task force but the group is run by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors.
Council Member Greg Collins said, “We haven’t done anything in three years. Let’s do something,” and seconded Cox’ motion.
The 19-member citizen’s group had its beginnings this summer and is chaired by Visalia Chamber of Commerce CEO Gail Zurek, community advocate Merritt Wiseman, and business owner Harold Myers.
According to Myers the group had its first meeting last night and discussed the nuts and bolts of where and when to meet and how to move forward. In a nod to efficiency, the group will occasionally spit up into sub-groups according to member expertise and work on specific projects in order to accomplish several goals at once. The 19 will also be bringing in experts who may not want to participate on a committee but do the hands-on work of solving problems and getting things done.
According to Zurek, the Action Group on Homelessness also includes attorney Robert Ainley, Servicemaster owner Tony Benevento, The Source LGBT+ co-founder Nick Vargas, former Visalia Unified trustee Milton Morrison, Tulare County Association of Realtors’ CEO Brett Taylor, retired attorney Phil Hornburg, restaurateur Kareem Dada, Provoke Salon co-owner Gloria Garcia, pastor Jason LeFaive, as well as Lisa Alvaredo, Doug Berg, Chevella Mack, Don Hutton and Tom Peltzer.