The Tulare County Homeless Task Force presented its strategy on homelessness at the December 16 Visalia City Council work session. The plan, dubbed “Pathway Home,” was presented by Nikka Raskin, executive director of Homebase Solutions.
Tulare County Supervisor Amy Shuklian, Chair of the task force, said that the plan is for the cities and county to use as a strategy to help those experiencing homelessness. She said the plan is not intended to solve the problem. The plan involves a long list of collaborators ranging from a variety of county agencies, housing developers, faith-based communities, city agencies, and non-profits, of which Shuklian said Tulare County is ahead of the state in terms of bringing all these entities together to talk about homelessness.
Although the city ultimately accepted the plan, there was some criticism from the council. The chief complaint being that the plan was too general. One of the council members called it a “cookie cutter” approach and another member questioned the statistics being brought forward.
Council member Brian Poochigan was also vocal about his feelings surrounding the plan, implying the plan brought before the council did not live up to the cost. “I’m not happy with the report at all. It’s my understanding it cost ballpark $70,000 for the report. And the plan basically says that we need to work together, come up with a low barrier shelter, and we need more affordable housing…I have a real problem with spending this much money on something that we already know.”
Other members of the council continued with similar lines of thinking. When, after nearly an hour of listening to task force members, the council essentially disregard the plan as a vague waste of money and the floor was opened to public comment.
Caity Meader, director of Family Services and task force member, took the stand to call out the council for it’s unhelpful comments and defend the months of work the task force put into developing the plan.
“I’m imploring you to please take a long hard look at your rhetoric. The negative and damaging narrative coming out of this council is more disheartening than I can tell you. I recognize the immense frustration that comes alongside the challenges we are facing as a community and addressing this complex and often competing needs in addressing the homeless problem, but the hurtful and unnecessary commentary about the attempts of the task force has made, the Homeless Alliance, my organization, and others who are working everyday to implement policy and programs that will support people out of their homeless situation, are hurting our community more deeply than you know.”
Meader ended her speech by calling for unity. She emphasized that it was not necessary to take the same course, but they all needed to be on the same track. In other words, it’s imperative that everyone agrees on the foundational goals for facing the homeless issue outlined in the plan: increase access to permanent housing, increase access to services to support exits from homelessness, expand services for subpopulations with special needs, strengthen public engagement and community partnerships.
These guidelines are general, but that seems to be the intent of the plan’s creators. Director of the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency and task force member, Timothy Lutz, explained that because the plan encompasses such a large area that it needs to be broader so that communities can tailor it to their specific area.
“From the task force’s perspective, anything that’s trying to encompass every community within the county, both incorporated cities and unincorporated area is going to by nature be broad. The intent was to try and be reflective of the needs of the community. But that doesn’t preclude the community from doing things that are much more specific…The intent I think was always to create something broad that could be viewed as a guideline or a map.”
According to Executive Director of the Kings-Tulare Homeless Alliance, Machael Smith, agreed and explained the strategic plan is not an action plan, it’s an overarching plan. The cities are supposed to develop their own plan. The problem is that the cities either want the plan made for them, don’t want to spend the money, or they simply can’t agree on the foundational goals set forth in the guidelines created by the task force.
However, not all members of the council felt this way. Mayor Bob Link believes because the plan is more general, it will give the adopters freedom to adjust it. “It’s a program that I think gives the county and the cities an opportunity to determine what direction they want to take,” Link said. “We needed, I believe, something to kick start our involvement with the homeless in a more constructive manner and I think that’s what it’s going to do.”
According to the mayor, just because the plan has been accepted does not mean the entirety of the plan will be implemented. There are parts of the plan that the council agreed with and there are other parts that it wasn’t so sure about. The next step is to determine what will be used and what will not, which will be decided in future council meetings.. Tulare and Porterville are next to receive the Pathway Home presentation. It’s yet to be seen how they will take to the plan.