BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — As more people in our community struggle to put a roof over their heads, 23ABC is dedicated to diving deeper into the homeless crisis and that's why we’ve made it one of our signature issues.
Over 120 new affordable housing units are set to be built in downtown Bakersfield. It is all part of a new $29 million state grant awarded to the Housing Authority of the County of Kern and the CityServe Network.
Most residents are familiar with the old Montgomery building that is now used as office space for CityServe, a faith-based non-profit. Now, the parking lot just outside of it will be the area for a new housing complex.
And it's not just an ordinary affordable home project. As research has shown, many who are home insecure are often dealing with a slew of other problems. That’s why this project, will also provide services to help tenants address those root issues that often lead them to this situation in the first place.
“For those who come in, we are teaching them job readiness and training, developing of just good life skills so they can then move on to long term homes, long term housing, and just better quality of life,” said Crissy Cochran, Director of Communications at CityServe.
This is Just a Pit Stop
Cochran explained that this is just a pit stop. The temporary housing and services are meant to help them get on their feet so they can then sustain permanent housing. Adding that it takes a community to make this type of change.
That is why they will be partnering with several local organizations to also offer counseling addressing substance abuse, traumatic stress disorders, and other mental illnesses. On top of that, with 36 out of 126 units set aside for foster youth, it will be the largest interim housing project for this group in the county.
“What you have is those who grow out of the system, children in foster care, they don’t have a place to land. This gives them a great place to live. This gives them probably a different environment than they are used to with all of the services that are catered to them,” said Cochran.
According to the National Foster Youth Institution, an average of one out of every four youth in foster care will become homeless within four years of aging out of foster care.
Heather Kimmel, Assistant Executive Director of Housing Authority of the County of Kern, explained, “If you could prevent homelessness for youth, you are setting them on a path where they will never experience it. Once somebody experiences homelessness for the first time, they are more likely to experience it for their entire adulthood.”
Kimmel with Housing Authority, which will be managing the building, added that the idea by setting aside these units for foster youth is to intervene early to start them off on a path for success.
More on Kern's Homeless Crisis
Dealing with Long Term Homelessness
Meanwhile, the other 89 units will be set aside for those experiencing homelessness for a long period of time, those who are at risk of entering a repeated cycle of homelessness, and those who are most likely to die while homeless.
“The applicants for this property are going to come through the Homeless Collaborative Coordinated Entry System. So, any agency where someone would typically reach out to access homeless services, whether they are already homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, they will be added to the list,” said Kimmel.
Kimmel added the Housing Authority will then go through the list and begin reaching out to those most vulnerable and get the application started.
Knowing the urgent need for this type of service, the city expects the construction to be done by the end of the year.
“We actually have people in our Bundage Lane Navigation Center with vouchers waiting in hand trying to get into permanent housing. There is a real crisis on our hands, there are people who need housing today. But unfortunately, we know that it just does not happen overnight. And so, the fact that we are able to actually build these units within a year, will be tremendous,” said Andrae Gonzales, City Councilman Ward 2.
Councilman Gonzales added the city is also looking for more affordable housing providers to build more housing.
For those who are at risk, you can call 211 to request help or you can find a list of currently available affordable housing units here:
The Other Problem to Finding Housing
But finding housing is just one part of the problem. Officials with CityServe said that not being able to pay rent is often a result of more complex issues someone may be facing, like mental illness, trauma, or substance abuse.
They tell 23ABC addressing these problems first is key to ending the cycle of homelessness. That is why they are taking a combined approach to deal with the homeless issue here in Kern County.
CityServe will be partnering up with several community organizations to provide counseling and job readiness training to prepare at-risk individuals for a steady future that includes keeping a job and getting into permanent housing.
While CityServe will develop the programs and manage the service side of the project, the Housing Authority for the County of Kern will handle eligibility and manage the building.
“We are making sure that way that we are reaching out to the people who are most vulnerable first and giving them an opportunity to apply for this property. Those that are most likely to remain in homelessness for a long period of time, those who are most likely to fall into homelessness and have it become a repeated cycle or in the most extreme situations those who are most likely to die in homelessness without an intervention,” Kimmel said.
Officials will begin reaching out to residents facing homelessness using a list created by several organizations that identify those at risk to begin the application process.
The city said they expect the construction to be done by the end of the year.
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