BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Thinking outside of the box to help those who are unsheltered is what Kern County's first homeless mobile clinic aims to do. The mobile clinic officially gets underway on Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but the work is already happening.
The mobile clinic takes off early in the morning, filled with hygiene kits and other vital needs. The whole idea is to engage and build relationships with people who are unsheltered. It may take time, but those running the mobile clinic say it's a key part of helping this community.
Right away, Edward Robinson, founder and CEO of The Social Servant, was reaching out. A homeless man walking alone was wary of Robinson's greeting, hesitant, but his eyes lit up when Robinson mentioned the hygiene kits and offered a meal.
Robinson gives the man a hygiene kit, explaining what all is in it, like dental care items and a first aid kit. He then asks the unhoused person if he has MediCal, and he answers yes.
Making sure the person has access to healthcare, and if so, referring them to Kern Health Systems, is the first major goal of the mobile clinic program. KHS has launched a holistic approach to caring for the unhoused population through the HHIP Grant. KHS used the grant to fund the mobile clinic, which will be their "boots on the ground" organization, referring individuals in need into the program.
The second major part of this endeavor is the engagement, which Robinson says is often overlooked.
"It is so important because that engagement is what can empower someone to change their circumstances or secure housing and healthcare," said Robinson.
Robinson says that engagement has to go beyond the 'once a year encounter' many unhoused people have come to expect during the Point in Time Count. With the mobile clinic, the idea is to continuously check in with people and build trust with them.
At the beginning of the year, Robinson had a goal to engage 100 people with services by December. By April, he's already halfway there.
"I want people to know, hey they are here to help, and the mobile clinic is prepped for it," said Robinson, pointing out that the clinic even carries the same kind of MREs (meals ready to eat) he ate when he was in the Army.
Another piece of the project is to raise awareness about pedestrian safety among unhoused people. According to Robinson, many pedestrian accidents involve unsheltered people.
"I figured this would be a good touch to foster good relationships with law enforcement, but also there are facts on here about pedestrian safety," said Robinson.
Sometimes, the work of the mobile clinic is just to drive around and find people in obvious need, but other times it's helping the people Robinson meets who may not look like they are struggling until he gets to know them.
Mustafaa Cobb works as an auto detailer who now lives in his business van. He says he lost his home after his divorce a couple of years ago, and since he washed cars for almost a decade before that, he now uses those skills to survive.
"I got all the basics I need to get the job done," said Cobb. "As far as me living in here? It's not very comfortable, so I just create a little space in the back and lay down every night."
Surface appearances may not make it obvious that this is Cobb's reality. Robinson met Cobb when he hired the auto detailer to clean out the mobile clinic van. Robinson had no idea Cobb was unhoused.
Since meeting Cobb, Robinson has been bringing him resources and continuing to check in with him.
Cobb, who admits he has not been very financially savvy in the past, says that's what he's working on right now as he faces his barriers.
"I ain't going to lie, it is tough, 'cause it does cost a lot to get a place to live nowadays," said Cobb.
Cobb says he is doing his best to keep money coming in, fighting the stigma that unsheltered people are lazy or don't want to work.
"My prices are reasonable because I am not looking to get ahead, I just want to stay busy every day. I just want to get up and have something to do," said Cobb. "I figured with these prices, I'll always stay busy."
Cobb also shared that he is usually skeptical of accepting help, but felt a genuine connection with Robinson, for whom this van is a full-circle moment.
"You know my story," said Robinson. "I was once homeless also."
Robinson says his time without a home led Robinson to join the Army, and now has led him to this point, looking to give back. He has since enrolled at Baylor University to become a clinical social worker. The idea for the mobile clinic project, which Robinson calls 'Engage for Change,' was borne out of a school assignment.
"That is pretty much all we are trying to do is pay it forward and help people secure basic life resources," said Robinson. "That is our goal."
Longer term, Robinson's goal is for this van to become Mobile Clinic 1, the first of a fleet that will allow Engage for Change to help as many people as possible.
IN-DEPTH: MORE PROJECTS TO FIGHT HOMELESSNESS
In addition to the new mobile clinic, Kern County has other projects in progress intended to address homelessness. Homelessness is our Signature Issue at 23ABC, so we are taking a closer look at some of those programs and projects.
According to the City of Bakersfield website, some projects they're working on include an expansion of the Brundage Lane Navigation Center. The city plans to add 118 beds in a new dorm at the location, as well as expand the parking lot.
The city also plans to add a new campus for the Open Door Network, formerly the Bakersfield Homeless Center, which is set to be completed by next year. This new ODN location is also expected to have an inpatient detox facility administered by Kern Medical.