BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — A Grand Jury report called into question the efficiency of local leaders and the community to address Kern's rising homeless crisis, saying that even with millions of dollars being allocated to organizations the issue only seems to be getting worse.
"Throwing taxpayer’s money at homelessness has not solved the problem," one line of the report stated.
According to the report, the Grand Jury discovered a case study published by Community Solutions that reported:
"By reaching functional zero, Bakersfield and Kern County have proven it’s possible to build a system of support that ensures their most vulnerable neighbors can leave homelessness behind."
The Grand Jury report stated they wanted to determine if this statement was in fact true. Instead, the Grand Jury reported that both the Kern County Board of Supervisors and the Bakersfield City Council missed opportunities to pass needed housing programs or use funds issued by the state.
One example given in the report is the permitting of the Casa Esperanza project, which planned to create a home for women experiencing homelessness due to domestic abuse or homeless with children.
This project was ultimately passed on by City Council, due to backlash from surrounding neighbors over concerns that too many people would live in the house and problems could spill into the surrounding area.
The report said that after the City Council unanimously struck down the project, the California Department of Housing and Community Development informed the city that it had misclassified the project, and a permit was not required for the desired location at the corner of Haley Street and Panorama Drive.
The project is now moving forward.
Significant amounts of money made available by the State for homeless projects have been lost, due to the unwillingness of the Kern County Board of Supervisors and Bakersfield City Council to approve proposed projects.
Another issue brought up in the Grand Jury report was the amount of funds granted by the state for homeless housing solutions that, the report says, have gone unused.
The Grand Jury report states that the Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative was granted $383,000 from the state for Project RoomKey, a statewide initiative to protect our homeless population from the spread of COVID-19 by offering lodging at hotels and motels.
The report says that the collaborative secured that funding for a deal with the Rosedale Inn, but that City Council failed to approve the project and the funds were not utilized.
The Grand Jury report stated that another missed opportunity was Project HomeKey. Similar to its predecessor, Project HomeKey was the next phase in the State’s response to protecting Californians experiencing homelessness who are at high-risk for serious illness and impacted by COVID-19. The governor proposed a $12 billion grant to get people experiencing homelessness off the streets and into homes of their own.
According to California Housing and Community Development, Kern was awarded $14,970,935 from California's HomeKey program to acquire four sites, totaling 151 units for permanent supportive housing.
The Grand Jury reported that one project that was passed and in the works before COVID-19 halted construction was the Covey Cottages for Veterans project. The project was expected to transform a plot located off Covey Avenue in Oildale, into residential housing for veterans.
Though COVID-19 halted construction and pushed the project back another year, the report stated that as of May 2021, Covey Cottages is moving forward and expects to be finished by the end of 2021.
The City of Bakersfield responded to the Grand Jury report, stating it is aware of the issues highlighted by the report.
The City of Bakersfield recognizes the current homeless crisis as one of the most important issues facing the City and its residents. The Grand Jury report highlights issues the City is aware of and already working to address. And as the report highlights, there is not one simple solution to this crisis.
Since the City Council passed its Emergency Crisis resolution on homeless in November 2018, the City has worked diligently across departments and with outside agencies to take many important steps in order to address this issue and work towards resolving it effectively.
The city noted that while there is still work to be done, the city is making positive strides to address homelessness.
It was only this past October that the city opened the Brundage Lane Navigation Center. During the City Council meeting Wednesday night, the center reported that it has served a total of 550 individuals facing homelessness, with 42 now housed through the program, and another 25 currently matched for housing opportunities.
Aside from City Council and the County Board of Supervisors, the Grand Jury reported that the stigma of homelessness throughout the community only worsens the issue.
Many believe that these individuals are a vagrant population that choose this lifestyle. The unfortunate truth is that many of these individuals are youth that have aged out of the foster system and abused women with children. Perhaps the most disturbing of all are the forgotten veterans that have faithfully served our country. Together we can make the necessary changes to dramatically reduce homelessness, and most importantly, to help improve the lives of families and individuals experiencing homelessness.
The grand jury noted that out of all the various types of homeless individuals, the one most often seen is those struggling with mental health issues.
In April, the Kern County Board of Supervisors heard a report from the Director of Kern Behavioral Health & Recovery Services regarding new regional outreach programs directed at combating homelessness.
One of the new outreach programs is the Kern Regional Outreach and Engagement Model (ROEM) program which began in February. It consists of a therapist, psychiatrist, and peers who visit homeless individuals struggling with mental health.
During that same meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved 5-0 the proposed construction of two new psychiatric health facilities, an item expected to cost up to $25,480,000.
23ABC reached out to the county and has not received a response yet. An official from the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative said they were still going through the report's finding.