Bakersfield making strides on homeless issue, council will hear Wednesday night

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Bakersfield City Council will devote a large portion of Wednesday’s meeting to a series of reports on local government’s progress in fighting homelessness.

The City of Los Angeles rolled out a new anti-camping ordinance this week designed to address its persistent problem with homelessness, which is one of the worst in the nation, and Bakersfield is paying very close attention.

In fact, the city council directed city staff to conduct a comparative analysis of the L.A. ordinance versus Bakersfield’s current municipal language that deals with public homelessness. The council will receive the report at Wednesday’s meeting.

Spoiler alert: Here’s what will be reported to the city council. The specifics of L.A.’s anti-camping ordinance, which bans sitting, sleeping or lying on any street, sidewalk or public right-of-way, are already covered by Bakersfield’s existing ordinances. In fact, some aspects are superior, such as the city’s 72-hour notice on dismantling  street encampments, as opposed to L.A.’s 14 days.

There is without question work to be done, but the city has made significant inroads. according to City Manager Christian Clegg.

“We continue to focus heavily on getting more affordable housing units, getting more support services, working on that mental health issue, which is the biggest issue that’s out there,” he said. “Because we need to create those bed spaces, because we actually have the capacity with law enforcement to enforce but there’s no place for folks to go.”

The City’s look in the mirror reveals a strong street outreach program led by Flood Ministries and supported by city and county agencies. It reveals substantial investment in improving the outcomes of homeless individuals who go through the system, a network of four facilities that provide 400 beds, and a Rapid Response Team that effectively responds to encampments set up around sensitive spaces like schools and libraries.

Anna Laven, executive director of the regional homeless collaborative, said she is optimistic about the region’s ability to make inroads.

“While it’s going to take us a little while to right the ship, if you will, both the impact of COVID and frankly the challenges of not having had enough resources coming into the community for decades — probably around affordable housing — the future is very bright because the strong commitment we’re seeing from both the city and the county,” she said.

By multiple metrics, Bakersfield’s homeless problem is substantially less than elsewhere in the state. L.A. has an estimated unsheltered population of 41,000, Kern County a little over 2,000. And of California’s 13 largest cities, Bakersfield, ranked number nine in population, has among the lowest number of homeless per capita.

Is there more to do? Certainly, Clegg said strides must be made in matching individuals with mental health services. But overall, an objective assessment might give Bakersfield a B-plus.

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