State, city of Visalia partner to clear encampments and trash along Highway 198

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen says Highway 198 has become a bit of an eyesore in recent months.

Homeless encampments have started lining freeway embankments, and large amounts of trash and debris are a common sight.

"So we have areas that are probably more in need of help which, would be Lovers Lane, west of Demaree, Linwood, and all the way down to Akers," Nelsen said.

Nelsen says Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol are now cleaning up those sections, which includes clearing the encampments.

The City of Visalia has provided crews to help with the effort.

Leading up to cleanup days, the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance makes contact with those living near the freeway.

"What we do with that is we do go out to the encampments, we meet up with folks and just talk to them and sometimes have to give them the bad news if they don't already know about it," Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance Housing Navigator Veronica White said. "Literally we just connect with them, offer services, provide trash bags to help them clean up, and just prepare them for the actual day of the move."

White often hears this question from those who must pack up and leave: 'Where do I go now?'

White says she can't give a great answer, because there aren't enough shelter options in the area.

"So we just try to reassure them that as the alliance, we're here to support them and work through resources, try to figure things out," White said. "Let's explore all options, let's get you on waiting lists and housing lists and anything that is available."

Nelsen says more homeless housing options are on the horizon for the city.

But he felt strongly that the city couldn't wait any longer to clean up Visalia's most-traveled thoroughfare.

"Hopefully people will see a dramatic change in the look of the 198 corridor," Nelsen added.

According to the 2020 Point in Time Report, nearly 1,000 people were experiencing homelessness in Tulare County, including 540 people in Visalia.
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