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Kern County tackles chronic homelessness

Posted at 9:55 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-08 00:55:49-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — In March of 2020, Bakersfield and Kern County joined an elite group of communities in the United States to end chronic homelessness.

This does not mean homelessness in Kern County was ended for everyone, instead a system was put in place to address homelessness for a specific population reaching what is called functional zero.

So, what exactly is functional zero? And how is Kern County maintaining the accomplishment?

Functional zero is a milestone that indicates a community has measurably ended homelessness for one population.

In this case, we’re talking about chronic homelessness which describes people who have been homeless for at least a year while struggling with a disability like a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability.

A graph from the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative in June 2019, the active homeless count in Kern County for chronic individuals was 32 and the latest data from October 2021 shows the number of actively chronic homeless individuals in the community has significantly dropped to only three.

The Kern County community is part of built for zero, a movement of more than 98 communities committed to measurably ending homelessness one population at a time.

“Those with a disability tend to get left behind so our goal was to focus on those who were most vulnerable and most challenging to house,” said Anna Levan, Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative.

Kern County’s homeless population is ever-changing.

As of January 2020, California had an estimated 161,548 experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Of that Total, 8,030 were family households, 11,401 were Veterans, 12,172 were unaccompanied young adults (aged 18-24), and 51,785 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.

Public school data reported to the U.S. Department of Education during the 2018-2019 school year shows that an estimated 271,528 public school students experienced homelessness over the course of the year. Of that total, 11,021 students were unsheltered, 19,758 were in shelters, 14,386 were inhotels/motels, and 226,363 were doubled up.

- United States Interagency Council on Homelessness

“We are creating a situation where our system can have homelessness be rare, brief and non-recurring,” said Levan.

Anna Levan with Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative said by partnering with built for zero Kern County has been able to get more people into housing and off the streets.

“Our goal was to focus on those who were most vulnerable and most challenging to house.”

“We have an incredibly dedicated group of people working extremely hard to make sure that people don’t have to suffer in homelessness for a year or longer,” said Heather Kimmel, Housing Authority.

Heather Kimmel with the Housing Authority of the County of Kern said they start by identifying individuals in need by using person-specific data: “So any provider in our community who offers service to homeless individuals if they believe they have a chronically homeless person they are serving we go through the certification process with them and they are immediately added to our by-name list.”

Once they are identified, “They were able to take those vouchers and find rentals in the private market. They applied for housing just like any other applicant searching for housing.”

“They all have case managers who provide supportive services to them, so they were able to work on things such as budgeting, increasing income, basic life skills,” said Kimmel.

By using flexible funding, “It was very helpful to have partnerships with landlords,” according to Anna Levan.

Kimmel said by maintaining functional zero: “It means that our homelessness response system is strengthening its more agile and it’s quicker to respond then it was a year ago.”

Kern County continues to maintain functional zero along with 14 other communities across the U.S. who have also ended homelessness for a single population in the future. Kern County is currently working on serving other vulnerable homeless populations like the elderly, veterans, and youth.