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City council's housing committee meets to discuss Bakersfield's progress

The Bakersfield City Council's Housing and Homelessness Committee met Tuesday to take stock of the city's ongoing efforts to move people off the street and into permanent housing.
homelessness (File)
Posted at 5:26 PM, May 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-23 20:49:57-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Housing and Homelessness Committee of the Bakersfield City Council held a special meeting on May 23 regarding the city's homeless community to discuss what parts of their long-term plan are showing success and which parts need more work.

According to the Housing and Homelessness Committee, there were 744 sheltered homeless people in Bakersfield last year. That number has increased this year to 902, and the number of sheltered homeless people is now larger than the number of unsheltered homeless people.

Despite this, city officials like Vice Mayor and Ward 2 Councilman Andrae Gonzales say Bakersfield will continue to see a rise in the homeless population.

"The reality is the raw number of individuals who are experiencing homelessness continues to rise and we are seeing that this year, and so it's important for us now to address that rise in homelessness," said Gonzales. "We are doing a significant and important job moving people into shelters, and then from the shelters, we are moving people into permanent housing."

Gonzales says that while we should celebrate that we have more homeless people in shelters than not, there is still more work that needs to be done.

"It's important for us to work on prevention and preventing people from entering homelessness. Not only is it more cost-effective, but it reduces the trauma and the impact on the individuals and the families that have to experience homelessness," said Gonzales.

Another topic, presented by Assistant to the City Manager Anthony Valdez, was the availability of affordable housing and how to maintain the resources necessary to ensure that the people helped into permanent housing stay housed.

"Affordable housing works when there are case workers that are available to make sure that folks get to their appointments, get the services that they need, but also that the services exist for them. The mental health, substance health, and other services are available," said Valdez.

According to data collected by the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative's Point-in-Time Count for 2022, 2,374 Kern County residents experienced homelessness for the first time. In the same year, 1,353 people were moved into permanent housing.

Valdez says this is not a solo effort and the city appreciates the help of partner agencies and organizations during this time.

"We look to our partners from other agencies and really, it is our service providers, it is our nonprofits that are in the field doing the work," said Valdez.

Gonzales says many shelters are almost at capacity, including the Brundage Lane Navigation Center, which was recently expanded. He acknowledges that while it's a good thing that more people are off the streets and in shelters, it's still not enough.

"Thankfully, the full city council has supported more funding in our affordable housing trust fund. Thanks to the voters for approving the Public Safety and Vital Services Initiative," said Gonzales, "But certainly we need to do more to accelerate the production of affordable housing units in our community."

bakersfield city council homeless committee
The Bakersfield City Council Committee on Housing and Homelessness meeting on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.

Gonzales says the focus after Monday's meeting and going forward will be on homelessness prevention and providing support to individuals who are at immediate risk of entering homelessness, which could help curb the inflow of homeless people.