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Kern officials discuss community-based solutions for homelessness

At a recent "lunch & learn," county officials talked to Austin-based charity Mobile Loaves and Fishes about a housing strategy they say works to pull people out of chronic homelessness.
Posted: 5:14 PM, Apr 19, 2023
Updated: 2023-04-19 23:37:13-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The 2023 Kern County Point in Time Count found that about 2,000 people in Bakersfield are experiencing homelessness. On Wednesday, the founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a non-profit organization based in Austin, Texas, visited Bakersfield to discuss models that could help get unhoused individuals off the streets and into a community.

Mobile Loaves and Fishes started in 1998 as a non-profit food truck that would provide those in need with food. Since then, it has expanded and created the Community First Village in Austin, according to founder and CEO Alan Graham.

"We have a village of about 550 homes that lift the chronically homeless men and women of Austin off of the streets," said Graham. "And then, we have a works program that has community works that empowers men and women that were formerly chronically homeless into a purposeful life."

alan graham mobile loaves and fishes
Alan Graham, founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes of Austin, Texas

"So today's event was really to bring awareness that there's a better model for how to bring permanent housing solutions to the homeless that need it so badly here in Kern County," said Darlene Denison, President of Hope Community Village, the organization that hopes to create new local housing solutions in the Austin model.

Graham says that the key to lifting those out of homelessness permanently is to surround them with a supportive community.

"A phrase within Mobile Loaves and Fishes is that housing alone will never solve homelessness, but community will. So what that says is that we have to move from a transactional mode, which is 'Let's build houses and then stuff people into the houses' to a more community-based model, which means we need people coming in."

Community First Village provides much-needed services on-site.

Darlene Denison hope community village
Darlene Denison, president of Hope Community Village

"That really is a community," said Denison. "They have healthcare services on site. They have a community store. They have a community works program where people in the village can earn money in addition to their disability payments. So my goal of this luncheon was to share that model with people in the community that want to make a difference."

The speakers at the lunch focused on the need for the community to come together and play an active role in fighting homelessness.

"I'm going to tell you that we the people are the system. We the people, we own the system. The government is ours," said Graham. "If we want to mitigate this deal, we have to jump in and partner with our government."

Anthony Valdes, Assistant to the City Manager, told me the collaboration between non-profits and the government is key.

"Our shelter is run by Mercy House for the city. Our street outreach is done by Flood Ministries and so many other of the non-profits," said Valdes. "We can't do the work alone. We need non-profits in our community to help do the work. We welcome the additional capacity in our community because we need it."

Anthony Valdes asst city manager bako
Bakersfield Assistant City Manager Anthony Valdes

"I think having relationships with the homeless and getting to know them is the way we are going to better serve them long-term," said Denison. "They all have a story. They've all gone through some sort of trauma in most cases."

Graham believes this is a problem that can be solved.

"So the percentage is very small. It turns out to be a very mitigable situation in almost every one of our communities, like Bakersfield, and we just have to get on it to mitigate it," said Graham.

Denison says she hopes to find land in order to build a similar community that can help lift people out of chronic homelessness in Bakersfield.


Homelessness is our Signature Issue here at 23ABC, and we are taking an in-depth look into how the local unhoused population breaks down along the lines of age.

According to the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative, there are just over 1,900 homeless people counted in Kern County in January's PIT Count.

The largest age group represented is people between the ages of 35 and 44, comprising 26 percent of the county's unhoused people.

The second highest group is people between the ages of 25 and 34 with 22 percent, while the third highest group includes those between the ages of 45 and 54 at just under 19 percent.

The fourth largest group of unhoused people in Kern are those between the ages of 55 and 64 with just over 15 percent.

People under the age of 18 make up approximately 10 percent of the county's unhoused population.