BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The latest data from the Point in Time report shows that more than 2,100 people identified as experiencing homelessness in Kern County. Tuesday, the county unveiled its latest plan to get people into shelters and off the street.
The PIT Count is a single-day, nationwide count of individuals experiencing homelessness who are both sheltered and unsheltered. The PIT Count is not a census of homelessness, but provides a snapshot view. Previously, the BKRHC PIT Count combined client information from emergency shelters and navigation centers with data from in-person surveys of unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, BKRHC applied and was approved for an exception by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to use an alternative PIT Count methodology.
The plan is broken into several components. One of them being the anti-encampment ordinance, which if approved it gives law enforcement and county response teams the power to remove individuals setting up camp on the streets. Something which Kern County supervisor Mike Maggard wants to clean up.
“As I passed through town a couple of days ago, I saw four or five people laying on the sidewalk. You don’t know if they are dead. You don’t know if they are alive. It surrounds us all the time,”
The ordinance aims to end that sight Maggard referenced by prohibiting camping, sitting, or lying down with the intent to camp in public areas. This includes sidewalks, doorways, riverbeds, parks, underpasses, and anywhere within 500 feet of a school or within 10 feet of a public sidewalk adjacent to a residential property. It also creates two rapid response teams that would enforce the ordinance through a notification process.
“A notice process so that we can go out and get things cleaned up because it doesn’t just prohibit the act of camping but also the setting up of personal property, campsites, and camp-type activity. So, there is a process for removing those items,” said James Zervas, chief operations officer for Kern County.
The team would also be required to notify the individuals first that camping is not allowed. They will then connect these individuals with resources like taking them to a shelter. The county will then store the items removed for 90 days.
This is only for public spaces, which do not include private business and would only be in effect if shelter space is available.
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A public hearing to see if this ordinance is adopted is set for November 9th.
To ensure there is availability, the county plans to open up other types of shelters like tiny homes. The proposal for this was presented as part of the county’s newest plan to tackle the issue of homelessness in Kern County.
Zervis explained there are many reasons why one may not accept going to a shelter. The tiny homes give a different option for those individuals.
Typically, tiny homes are between 100 and 400 square feet. While there isn’t a set standard, a tiny house rarely exceeds 500 square feet. Beyond that size, they’re merely, um, small. For reference, the median size of a new, single-family home sold in 2015 was 2,520 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Need a visual? You could fit 144 tiny houses on a football field. Yes, we did the math.
While it might have originally seemed like a passing fad, the tiny-home trend is actually growing. While the exact number of tiny homes is unknown, in 2015 alone more than 30 microcommunities—established or under development—sprouted up across the U.S., according to Tiny House Community, a website for small-home owners.
"Maybe they have trauma and are not able to function in a congregate setting. This gives them a safe space that maybe we can get them off the street into a non-congregate setting like a tiny home facility."
The idea is to bring 30 to 50 double occupancy homes but it has not yet been approved. They are still working on the details of where this would be located.
Meanwhile, as Zervis said this is not a permanent solution. That is why Emma de La Rosa with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability spoke to the board about the gaps she sees in the plan.
"There needs to be enough affordable housing for folks to go to when they do leave the shelters. And I think it is also time for the county to also consider other types of policies that can help with building affordable housing such as inclusionary zoning or even rent control since rent is going up because there is not enough available apartment units."
Once they have the full costs of the tiny homes, the proposal will be again brought to the board for them to decide if they approve or not. But there is no official date set for when that will happen.