Kings County agencies, officials come together to combat homelessness and despair

By Ed Martin, Editor

A consortium of local health advocates and city and county officials are attempting to ease the problems associated with homelessness, an issue that continues to grow not only in Hanford but statewide.

There are many homeless encampments in Hanford and Kings County similar to this one. Hanford Police Officer Mark Carrillo showed this photo, and others, to a consortium of agencies and individuals interested in creating a homeless service center.
There are many homeless encampments in Hanford and Kings County similar to this one. Hanford Police Officer Mark Carrillo showed this photo, and others, to a consortium of agencies and individuals interested in creating a homeless service center.
Photo Courtesy Hanford Police Department

Over 100 persons gathered Tuesday morning (July 10) in the Hanford Civic Auditorium to hear a presentation by the Kings County Wellness Bridge project, a non-profit agency that has assigned itself the task of helping Kings County’s homeless population transition from despair to housing and hopefully employment.

The Wellness Bridge is designed to bring together local agencies to address the causes of homelessness which could include mental illness, substance abuse, and crime. More recently the Wellness Bridge has partnered with the city of Hanford and its police department to create a homeless service center. City officials have already started the process of purchasing a vacant building, located on E. Sixth Street in Hanford. The former Jordan F. Miller building has office space and a warehouse area.

According to a report issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2017 there were upwards of 550,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States, and for every 10,000 people in this country, 17 were experiencing homelessness. California is by far the leader in homelessness. Estimates are that there are roughly 135,000 persons regarded as homeless.

Another homeless site in Hanford where the homeless encamped.
Another homeless site in Hanford where the homeless encamped.
Photo Courtesy Hanford Police Department

Leading the two-hour participatory session was Debbie Grice, who currently works with Anthem Blue Cross in its government services division and is a member of the Wellness Bridge organization. Using a PowerPoint presentation, Grice and fellow presenter, Hanford Police Officer Mark Carrillo, highlighted the growing awareness of homelessness in Kings County.

“They’re (homeless) everywhere,” said Grice. “This has become a huge issue for me. It’s becoming more and more visible.” The former public health nurse recalled joining law enforcement officers in the field in an attempt to stem a hepatitis outbreak among the homeless and learning more about the rising tide of homelessness. She said it could happen to anyone.

“And honestly, this has just been something that I believe, but for the grace of God, it could happen to any one of us. We’re not all independently wealthy. We are all one or two, or a few paychecks away from being there ourselves. Just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean that we should treat them with any less respect and dignity than anyone else deserves.”

She said the Wellness Bridge is trying to fill the gap by creating a homeless services center, where the homeless can get a meal, wash their clothes, find help obtaining a job, and come in from the cold for a while. Unfortunately, they probably won’t get to spend the night.

“The city has already purchased the building, so that’s going to happen,” said Grice. “We expect that we should be able to have it ready to roll out sometime early in 2019. So that’s why we’re starting this planning process now because we’ve got a lot of pieces to put together. We just need to figure out the next steps.”

Steps include finding the resources to operate the homeless center on a 24 hour per day, seven days a week basis. That was the task place before the 100-plus participants in Tuesday’s seminar. Tables of five to six persons exchanged ideas that ranged from focusing on state and national grants and seeking assistance from the community from businesses and individuals.

The Wellness Bridge is connected to the Adventist Health Foundation; an IRS established charitable foundation.

“Think if we move people off the streets. Think of the difference that would make in our community,” said Grice.

For his part, Carrillo, a member of the Hanford Police Department’s Problem Oriented Policing Unit, gave the crowd a visual look at several homeless sites in and around Hanford, places that are often out of sight of the average citizen, but still a constant burden on the police and fire department.

“Those areas aren’t heavily traveled by the general public,” said Carrillo. “They’re off the beaten path, so to speak. They’re areas you wouldn’t go as a normal citizen, as far as empty lots, vacant homes. It’s just not something you would see on your daily travels.”

Carrillo said the main problem the city faces in improving the homeless issue is the lack of resources – from the city’s perspective – as well as the business or property owner perspective. “A lot of the barriers come from the business or property owners who often say they don’t have the money to pay six or seven thousand dollars to clean up an area where the homeless camp.

What does a typical police officer do when he encounters the homeless?

“Depending on the point of contact, or the location, if they’re on someone’s private property in the city, they’ll contact them, run their name find out if they have any warrants or on probation,” said Carrillo. “And if it’s an issue where they’re on somebody’s front yard or backyard … If they refuse, there’s a possibility they could be arrested for trespassing.”

For more information regarding the Kings County Wellness Bridge, contact Debbie Grice at or Officer Mark Carrillo at

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