HANFORD — Members of the Kings County Wellness Bridge project hosted an informational seminar Tuesday in hopes of creating a homeless service center in Hanford, and they are asking for the community’s help.
For the past two years, taking care of the vulnerable homeless population and helping them transition from homelessness to stable housing and even employment has been one of the goals of the Kings County Wellness Bridge.
According to its website, the Wellness Bridge is a coalition of several local agencies with the goal to develop a comprehensive and collaborative approach to address people with mental illness, substance abuse issues and who are homeless or at risk of homelessness within Kings County.
The Wellness Bridge has partnered with the city of Hanford and Hanford Police Department to bring the vision of a homeless service center to life.
Currently, the city is in the process of purchasing a building at 421 E. Sixth Street, which has office space and a large warehouse and is intended to be the site of the center.
Debbie Grice, who works in the special programs unit at Anthem Blue Cross and is part of the Wellness Bridge coalition, conducted the seminar and has high hopes for the possible center and its mission to help the local homeless population.
Grice formerly worked in the public health department in Kings County and saw every day the effects of homelessness, including an increasing number of homeless people and a lack of resources for them.
Grice said the purpose of the seminar was to get the community to be part of the planning process and have the outcome reflect what the community wants and needs
“This is going to benefit the entire community,” Grice said.
During the seminar, Hanford Police Officer Mark Carrillo talked about homelessness from the law enforcement aspect. He showed pictures of different homeless encampments that have been set up throughout the city and talked about how they affect the community.
Carrillo said the city has had to spend money and manpower to clean encampments that are piled with trash, not to mention the fire department having to put fires out that start in the encampments.
Carrillo said the encampments are not only dangerous for the people living in them, they are dangerous for city employees and police officers to clean out.
Some calls for service relating to Hanford’s homeless population include trespassing, loitering, panhandling, vandalism, public intoxication, petty theft and illegal dumping, among others, Carrillo said.
“Last year, the city of Hanford responded to just under 1,000 calls specifically for vagrants,” Carrillo said, adding the fire department has already responded to 40 calls of fires associated with homeless people or encampments just this month.
While some people may argue that homeless people choose to stay homeless and don’t want help, Grice said that is not always the case. She said 47 percent of people that are deemed incompetent to stand trial after they are arrested are homeless.
“Most of the people out on the street have serious mental illnesses and that’s why they’re out on the street,” Grice said. “And we have no infrastructure to really take care of them.”
Ultimately, Grice said the service center is intended to be a “one-stop shop” where homeless people could meet with service providers and where they can take care of essential needs like doing laundry and taking showers. She said ideally the center would be open 24 hours a day, but added it could not be a place where people sleep.
Grice had people talk amongst their tables about different aspects of the center, including what services to provide, where funding could come from and next steps. People from each table wrote down and shared their ideas with the entire group.
After the seminar, Grice said she believed the event was a success and was able to produce constructive conversations and ideas.
Now, Grice said the information will be used to plan the next steps. Moving forward, she said she wants to develop task forces to address the main issues the center faces and encouraged as many people as possible to become active in the planning process and be part of the solution.