Visalia approves low-barrier homeless shelter over last-minute objections

Visalia City Council unanimously approved $5 million for the city’s first low-barrier homeless shelter on Monday despite objections from a national housing developer. 

The shelter is set to be built near Riverway Sports Park on the northern edge of the city, which will help the over 500 homeless individuals in Visalia. 

With the 100-bed shelter scheduled to open in January 2023, several local social services providers will oversee operations and maintenance. 

One of the key partners is Community Services Employment Training (CSET), which has been working in Tulare County to combat poverty since its founding in 1976. 

The group of nonprofits will contribute $7.9 million in funding, bringing the project’s total budget to $12.9 million. 

People who will utilize the shelter will be allowed to stay for three to six months while the city and social services groups help them transition into permanent housing. 

The homeless shelter is structured after 40 Prado, a shelter-human services program enacted in San Luis Obispo County.

National developer Lennar Corporation took issue with the location of the shelter, which will be built next to a housing subdivision that is currently under construction. 

“Just because it’s a free site doesn’t mean it’s the right site,” local Lennar spokesman Matt Backowski told the council. “It’s unfair to neighboring homeowners, to those preparing to move in, and even to this council if we don’t bring the community in to be able to be heard and give feedback.” 

In response, the council noted that many homeless people are already living along the St. John’s River. 

“The city needs something like this because right now there’s a homeless problem on the river. By putting this [shelter] here, we can get people out of the river and into a secure location,” said Councilman Brian Poochigian. “That benefits the neighbors in this community.”

Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.