By Mike Rhodes
On April 21, a group of about 100 homeless people and their supporters attended the Tulare City Council meeting calling for changes in public policy. The group, which delivered a petition signed by more than 1,000 residents, called for improvements in the way homeless people are treated by the police, a safe place to sleep and equal rights.
The Union of Hope in Tulare filled the City Council chambers with an overflow crowd. There was standing room only. Below is part of the statement they delivered to the mayor and City Council members:
Dear Honorable Mayor, David Macedo and City Council Members
We thank you for this opportunity to address this issue…The issue is the poor treatment of houseless people here and the lack of a long term solution to the problem in this beautiful city. According to the Homeless Central California Area Social Services Consortium 2015 there are 595 houseless persons in our County, and in our city of Tulare there are 100. We find it deplorable that three houseless persons have died already this year, and Raul Galegos encountered a houseless mother with her 8-month-old child who were both as cold as ice. The houseless have reported being assaulted, having bones broken, and their belongings taken. These people are residents of Tulare and as such deserve to have access to shelter and provisions in their time of need. They deserve to be protected and not assaulted. They are human beings and they need to have access to emergency shelter in the heat of summer and the cold of winter…
Since the problem needs a long-term solution there will need to be a two tiered approach to it, dealing with the short-term needs and issues until the long-term solution can be put into place… This is what we think needs to be done on the short term issues: current, available facilities need to be reviewed from their budgets and expenditures, to the services they provide, so that we know we are meeting the reasonable needs of this population. Many of the houseless are willing to work, we can create jobs for them to do and earn self-respect.
…The houseless people of this city have united to improve their living conditions. They have founded an organization called the Tulare Union of Hope. They have partnered with the ACLU and held a series of stakeholder meetings and needs assessment. As a result of this needs assessment the houseless have identified several needs; to be treated fairly, to have a safe place to exist free from harassment, to have access to restrooms and showers, and to have lockers to keep their belongings free of seizure. These houseless people have united to develop this needs assessment, meet with key members of the community, and solicit signatures.
T h e y h ave found that 9 out of 10 Tulare citizens agree that there is a problem in Tulare that needs to be addressed and have collected over 1000 signatures of support… There are two things you can do now that will cost the city nothing. You can adopt a resolution to support the rights of the houseless in Tulare… You could also change existing ordinances to allow houseless to pitch tents between the hours of 9pm– 6am.
…Do not ignore this issue, do not let it grow. Fresno has been sued and has been forced to compensate the homeless 2.5 million dollars. Don’t let that happen in Tulare. Be proactive. Whether it is passing ordinances, funding lockers, increasing police training, or funding non-profits, we, as residents, urge you to do something.
In attendance was Jessica Garza, who is homeless and had an unpleasant run-in with the Tulare police. According to Garza, her arm was broken by a Tulare police officer who was preventing her from leaving a meeting with Child Protective Services (CPS). Garza said the CPS official was trying to convince her to sign papers to give up her rights to her children. When she said she did not want to do that and tried to leave the meeting, the officer grabbed her, slammed her into a door and broke her arm. Garza said three uniformed police officers were in the room and she felt she was being coerced into giving up her rights.
Pam Whalen, organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union, has been working on the ground with the homeless in Tulare on these issues. She was pleased with the turnout and support they received. Despite some pushback from the business community, they plan to continue with these efforts. “Moving forward, we want to work with Tulare County in getting funding to support the short-term and long-term proposals outlined in the statement delivered to the mayor and City Council,” says Whalen. “Also, we will be addressing cases like Jessica Garza’s that are violations of people’s civil liberties.” For more information and to get involved, contact Whalen at 559-994-9390.
Mike Rhodes is a frequent contributor to the Community Alliance. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.