BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — A recent report by the non-profit organization Community Solutions stated that Kern County is among five communities in the country that have significantly reduced chronic homelessness but questions have come up on what that means since there are still homeless people in the community. 23ABC's Bayan Wang breaks down this report and how getting resources to certain people is helping with the issue.
Let's start with what this does not mean: this does not mean homelessness has been solved in Bakersfield. This organization is specifically talking about chronic homelessness which is only one of several subpopulations in the county. But nevertheless, local homeless officials say that type of homelessness is now rare and brief.
"When we look at our success with the chronic homeless population, that took over a couple of years for us to get to that point," explained Anna Laven, executive director of the Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative.
According to JOIN, a homeless support organization, "homelessness can essentially be broken down into four categories: chronic, episodic, transitional, and hidden."
Community Solutions defines Chronic Homelessness as: "long-lasting or recurring homelessness for a community’s most vulnerable neighbors. It is defined by the federal government as impacting people who live with a documented disability and have experienced verifiable homelessness for at least a year — or repeatedly over the last 3 years."
Chronic homelessness is one of the most challenging experiences according to Laven. She said people dealing with chronic homelessness have a documented disability and have experienced homelessness for at least a year or repeatedly over three years.
Other sub-populations of homelessness in Kern County such as family homelessness, veteran homelessness, and youth homelessness do not fit into either of these categories.
You can learn more about Chronic Homelessness on the US Department of Housing and Urban Development website.
Data from BKRHC shows that helping those people find housing in recent years has been a success.
Community Solutions explains that "a community has achieved functional zero when it can continually ensure chronic homelessness is rare — maintaining a reality where three or fewer people are experiencing this long-lasting homelessness."
"As of January 2019, the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness in Bakersfield and Kern County was 62," said Anna Kim, a spokeswoman for Community Solutions. "And when they reached functional zero they have driven that number down to two."
Bakersfield/Kern County, California, is among an elite group of five communities in the country that have been recognized for reaching functional zero for chronic homelessness.
- To achieve this certification, the community must maintain a reality where chronic homelessness is rare, with fewer than three people experiencing chronic homelessness at any given time.
- This certification indicates that the community has achieved a gold standard system of support that helps the most vulnerable members of the community exit homelessness.
- Chronic homelessness is long-lasting or recurring homelessness for a community’s most vulnerable neighbors. It is defined by the federal government as impacting people who live with a documented disability and have experienced verifiable homelessness for at least a year — or repeatedly over three years.
Community Solutions is a non-profit organization that has partnered with homeless collaboratives in Kern County for more than 5 years. Laven said in addition to favorable housing contracts that were recently confirmed, Community Solutions played a big part in driving down chronic homelessness in Kern County.
"When you have folks who are outside facilitators and who are connected with other communities who are looking at doing this kind of work as well you can really leverage what others are finding as successes."
But there is still a lot of work to do. When considering the results of the 2020 Point in Time Count - which identified 1,580 homeless people in Kern County - more than 60 percent of them are unsheltered. That is a 19 percent increase from the previous year.
The Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative (BKRHC), also known as the Bakersfield/Kern County Continuum of Care (CA CoC-604), counted 1,580 unduplicated homeless people countywide sleeping in shelters and on the streets in a 12-hour period on January 23rd and 24th, 2020. The new count amounts to a 19% increase over the 1,330 homeless people counted the previous January. It also reflects a 25% jump in unsheltered people (from 805 to 1,004)— typically single adults—who were sleeping in parks, empty buildings, cars, and other places not meant for human habitation. By comparison, there was only a 10% rise in the numbers of individuals and families with children sleeping in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs.
"Even if we were able to engage in data-driven decision making and case management for those 1,000 individuals we still lack 1,000 units of housing where we can place those folks."
And the Homeless Collaborative has been very vocal with community partners about what they call a housing shortage. Laven said in order to get more people off the streets there needs to be more housing available.