BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Kern County has been awarded more than 200 emergency vouchers to get homeless people in the county off the streets.
Prior to the pandemic, there were housing vacancies but now there are more than 2,000 people experiencing homelessness and thousands waiting for a place to stay in Kern.
"Vouchers are one of our best ways of being able to problem-solve around the issues of homelessness," explained Dr. Anna Laven, executive director of the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued emergency vouchers across the country. The funding for these vouchers comes from both the American Rescue Plan and the CARES act. Of those, 243 have been allocated to Kern County specifically for the homeless. But according to the Housing Authority, there are more than 17,000 people on the waiting list for housing, which includes the homeless.
"Homelessness has been an area of rising concern and with rising numbers and our goal and our mission is achieving a Kern County where everyone has a permanent place to call home."
For those who are experiencing homelessness and want to apply for the vouchers the first step is calling 211. Rebecca Moreno from Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAPK) explains how the assessment process determines eligibility and priority.
"The assessment takes 20-30 minutes. Our team will be able to speak with the individual talk through the assessment. Very simple. They don't have to give details. They can just answer the question with a simple 'yes,' a simple 'no' and then they'll move on to the next question."
Officials say in order for the program to work it is vital that vacant housing units are found.
"Our ask of the community is that if the property owner and the landlord can start to think about whether or not they can have someone with a voucher as a tenant and I think our message really is that we are incredibly good stewards with a lot of advantages for owners," explained Laven.
For landlords who take part in the program, they will receive consistent monthly rent payments and continued support.
"Take time to help your neighbor. You know the person that you see on the street is someone's son, someone's daughter, said Moreno. "You know they were somebody's neighbor, somebody loves them and somebody cares about them."
If you have already reached out to 211 and applied for assistance there is no need for a separate application. You will be contacted if you qualify for the emergency voucher program. For those experiencing homelessness or landlords hoping to help their neighbors, you can visit the CAPK or the Housing Authority of Kern websites.