Homelessness. That word carries a lot of weight, a lot of value judgments, concerns, fears, and worry. It also can convey hope, determination, and empathy. There are members of our community who are sleeping in ditches. They find shelter in hole-ridden tents adorned with items that, like their residents, have been discarded by society. They are daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, and sometimes all alone, having lost all family. We pass by them on our way to work, while we’re stopping to get coffee, and when we travel to get groceries or go to the gym. While we go about our days never thinking twice about these privileges, those we pass are struggling to survive. It behooves one to wonder what is being done for the less fortunate amongst us.
The Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA) is partnering with numerous governmental agencies, community organizations, and individuals who are dedicated to changing the future for unhoused individuals. We’ll briefly explore a few areas of action so you’re better aware of the efforts that are underway right here in our county.
Earlier this year, HHSA formed the Homeless Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) to bring resources from across our branches to help better coordinate and deliver services to the homeless population. This team includes representatives from mental health, alcohol and drug specialists, a self-sufficiency counselor, a health education assistant, a social services worker from Aging Services, as well as fiscal staff. The team collaborates with community partners, including each of our cities, the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance, our hospitals, including Kaweah’s Street Medicine Team, and numerous other entities. It takes a complex and well-coordinated approach to help unravel the knot of traumatic barriers that too often keep people on the streets.
If you think the pandemic has been hard, imagine weathering the last year and a half while being homeless. One of the major activities of the Homeless MDT has been working with Public Health and our medical partners around vaccination efforts. Partners including Kaweah Health, Adventist Health, Family HealthCare Network, Cherry Clinics, and Sierra View have helped us host targeted outreach vaccination events for the homeless in Visalia, Tulare, and Porterville. One of our most successful events was held at the county’s designated Warming Center, which was located at the Lamp Liter Inn this year. These efforts include additional community partners such as housing navigators from the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance, outreach works from Kings View’s PATH program, advocates from Central Valley Empowerment Alliance, and the nonprofit Salt+Light Works. The primary efforts are targeted at providing vaccines; however, we maximize the time by offering a plethora of services during the post-inoculation observation period so we can aid participants in connecting with vital services.
What is one way to reduce homelessness? Increase access to homes. Project RoomKey and Project HomeKey are two major projects that are supported through the State. Project RoomKey aims to both provide a place for COVID+ homeless individuals to quarantine, as well as a program that provides temporary non-congregate shelter for homeless people who are at an increased risk for negative outcomes from COVID-19 due to their underlying medical conditions. This project has placed hundreds of vulnerable homeless individuals into motel rooms throughout the pandemic. The related Project HomeKey helps to extend these efforts by renovating old motels into permanent supportive housing to make a long-term difference. These projects involve extensive collaboration with the Resource Management Agency, General Services, Environmental Health, transportation companies, UpHoldings, Turning Point of Central California, the Homeless Alliance, and many, many more partners.
Are any other substantial activities underway? Yes. Recently, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved the initial plan of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). One major element in our local plan was the inclusion of funding for multiple efforts to reduce homelessness. This includes funding for homeless navigation centers, housing projects, tiny home villages, and related efforts. These funds will help provide access to housing and services to address barriers to stability. This is our pathway forward to help lift people out of the streets and into hope.
Needs are abundant, and caring and compassionate people help to make a difference. Our funding streams have limits, and our homeless brothers and sisters have many needs. You can help make a difference by contributing to our Friends of Tulare County account. Donated funds will help us address the complex needs of those we help that other funding does not cover.