Kern County Grand Jury report says local government, communities must get behind homeless housing projects amid worsening problem

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"Without approval of housing projects for the homeless, the annual homeless population in the City and County will continue to grow."

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A Kern County Grand Jury white paper says communities and local government must do more to support projects that not only house homeless people, but to prevent conditions that lead to homelessness.

The 18-page grand jury report titled “Kern County Homelessness and the Impact on Our Community” says the Kern County Board of Supervisors and Bakersfield City Council must get behind projects that build more housing and that significant amounts of state funding for various housing projects has been lost because of “unwillingness” to go forward on them.

Nearly $8 million in funding has been made available to non-profits working to house homeless people, but when it comes time to place people in housing, there are essentially no housing units available with a less than 1% vacancy rate in Bakersfield.

According to the report, the Kern County Housing Authority has more than 18,600 households on a public housing waiting list. “It makes it particularly difficult to find housing solutions if there’s literally no supply,” the Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative said.

The report highlights several projects that have either stalled or not been acted on including the Casa Esperanza project in Northeast Bakersfield that the City Council denied a permit earlier this year. It was only intervention by the California Department of Housing and Community Development that allowed the project to move forward, the report stated.

The report also highlights two Project RoomKey proposals in Bakersfield — one at the Rosedale Inn on Buck Owens Boulevard, another at Sleep Inn & Suites on Knudsen Drive — that were denied by the city and the county. A grant of $383,000 to Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative has gone unused.

“Not In My Backyard,” or NIMBYism, the report states, must be addressed at all levels as homelessness continues to rise.

One solution the report lauds is the use of “tiny home” projects that have sprung up across the state and the rest of the country. “The City and County must seriously explore the feasibility of placing various tiny home villages throughout Kern County to provide transitional and permanent housing for the homeless,” the report says.

A tiny home project for homeless veterans is currently under construction off Covey Avenue in Oildale, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed construction. The homes are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Public education on who homeless communities consist of is also “urgent” the report says, and pushes back on the idea that the homeless population chooses to remain homeless.

“The unfortunate truth is many of these individuals are youth that have aged out of the foster system and abused women with children. Perhaps most disturbing of all are the forgotten veterans that have faithfully served our country.”

The report also highlights the ripple effects homelessness has on city and county budgets and law enforcement. Cleanup efforts at encampments, parks, empty buildings and other needed law enforcement responses bring added costs.

Even so, the report stresses there is not one solution for homelessness in Bakersfield and Kern County, but instead urges collaboration between existing groups providing homeless outreach, and to build more temporary, transitional and permanent housing.

“What we need is commitment from our politicians, community leaders, and our community neighbors to work together to reduce homelessness and build a future where every person has a permanent place to call home,” the report states.

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