TULARE, Calif. (KFSN) -- Tulare city councilmembers called a special meeting on homelessness on Thursday night.
Community members shared their concerns about the worsening situation, and councilmembers decided to create a strategic action committee to focus on short and long-term solutions.
According to the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance 2019 Point in Time Count, the city of Tulare saw a 27% increase in its homeless population last year.
Before year's end, councilmembers declared a housing and shelter crisis in the city.
It's more than a symbolic gesture.
Mayor Jose Sigala says it means city leaders and community members can take advantage of more funding to fight the homeless epidemic and expedite efforts to build an emergency homeless shelter.
"It's a very complicated issue," Sigala said. "Emergency shelters take time and obviously take funding to develop. And it's one way to try to help people out that are on the streets, especially when it's raining and it's cold. But it also helps us try to address the concerns that the public has had in terms of homeless camping on public spaces, in our parks, in our trails."
Tents line the railroad that runs parallel to J Street.
The city's biggest encampment is at the corner of Kern and I Street.
Lighthouse Rescue Mission's women's shelter and offices are just feet away.
By February, the office will become a men's shelter.
But Lighthouse Chief Executive Officer Dave Clevenger says shelters are a temporary solution.
"The folks that are in this encampment behind us are stuck," Clevenger said. "And the way that they move out of that is by becoming a part of a community that's offering hope in jobs and housing and case management-people that are available to help them."
Tulare County Mental Health is also helping to address Tulare's housing and shelter crisis with a new long-term supportive housing project for their clients who are mentally ill and at-risk of homelessness.
Like any other city, change in Tulare won't happen overnight.
But its leaders and residents are confronting the complex challenges, and they're committed to seeing a dramatic drop in their homeless population.
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