BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — It is increasingly difficult to take a walk down a local park or drive down streets without seeing homeless people. City officials said ending homelessness is the main concern they hear from residents and at 23ABC we hear that concern from our viewers as well.
That is why we are dedicated to diving deeper into the homeless crisis and have made it one of our signature issues.
The city said they understand homelessness is not something that can be fixed overnight, but that is why they created the Homelessness Committee to get an overview of the situation here and find better approaches to the situation.
Anthony Valdez, Assistant to the City Manager at City of Bakersfield, discussed some of the areas the committee has already identified where the city can improve: “With coordination amongst our teams, in the fields, some opportunities to expand the shelter, because we are seeing so many turned away, especially in the winter months, and we have a long waiting list.”
He said local shelters are constantly full, which is why they are investing $6 million to expand capacity at the Brundage Lane Navigation Center.
“We added over 100 beds and a recuperative care dorm. An example of something that was missing here in the community is folks that self-discharge from the hospital who still have some needs, some wound care needs, some IV needs, and need medicine.”
That recuperative care dorm is in partnership with Kern Medical and the bed expansion is expected to be completed by fall 2022.
This January, they also added a third outreach team through the flood ministries to focus only on the Kern River.
“Right now, we are out on the river mapping encampments, talking to people, trying to understand why they are there, what are the issues, what are the barriers to keep them from going to a shelter or getting resources they have,” said Jim Wheeler, Executive Director of Flood Bakersfield Ministries.
Wheeler said they now have a total of six people working in different areas of Bakersfield and eventually the city code enforcement will work with them to transition these individuals to resources.
He added that each one has their own story of why they are in that situation and why they have not received aid, but that is what the team is trying to change.
“It takes up to 17 engagements with a person before it builds trust. So, what our teams do is we go out and we try to engage with people and build rapport so they will trust is, because once they trust us then they give us the information we need, and they are more likely to accept services.”
Flood ministries has been doing this work since 2013. From the data they have collected during their outreach, they found 90 percent of the homeless population here are from Kern County which is also linked to low home vacancy and very limited affordable housing. Although, Wheeler noted that this takes time to visibly see a change.
“We have been laying the foundation, making some significant investments, and really trying to get ahead of this crisis,” said Valdez.
The next committee meeting will be at the end of February and will focus on mental health and substance abuse which they say is one of the largest causes of homelessness here.
Each night the shelter holds four beds open for emergency placements by the Bakersfield Police Department. Besides the four beds set-aside for BPD, the Brundage Lane Navigation Center has continually reached full capacity on available bed space.
In the last month, an average of 70 people a week have expressed interest in entering the BLNC to street outreach contractor Flood Ministries but have been turned away.
The following is a percentage breakdown of turnaways due to capacity by reason and population:
- 40% due to capacity in the couple’s dorm
- 21% due to capacity in the men’s dorm
- 16% due to pet capacity – couples
- 11% due to pet capacity – female
- 9% due to capacity in the female dorm
- 4% due to pet capacity – males
In addition, there are 67 clients in the BLNC that have been matched with housing vouchers that have been waiting for placement in affordable housing units. The current shortage of affordable housing units creates pressure on available shelter beds when they become available.
While the BLNC has quickly become a critical asset in addressing homelessness, there is a significant remaining need in our community.
Despite the City and County funding the creation of 400 new shelter beds during 2020, doubling the number of available shelter beds in the greater Bakersfield area, there is still a demand for additional beds. The 2020 Point in Time Count identified that there are 842 unsheltered individuals in our community.
While there are multiple solutions that our regional collaborative needs to pursue, such as affordable housing, mental health treatment and substance abuse programs, it is evident that an unmet demand remains for individuals seeking shelter bed space at the BLNC.
What Will a New Recuperative Care Dorm Do?
Construction of a 20-bed recuperative care dorm at the BLNC would more than triple the current 6-bed recuperative care capacity in the City of Bakersfield.
Recent changes in California law require that hospitals establish a place of residence for stabilized patients before discharge. Local hospitals struggle with finding a place to discharge stabilized unsheltered patients and have approached the City to consider establishing a specialized dorm at the BLNC to provide care for those individuals well enough to be discharged from a hospital but not well enough to enter the general population of a congregate shelter.
The BLNC would host a new recuperative care dorm that is staffed, equipped, and paid for by local hospitals. Once patients are well enough, they would be discharged into the general population of the BLNC where caseworkers will work to find them permanent housing.