BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Cities and counties all over the country continue to wrestle with a persistent problem that only seems to get worse: What to do with people who, either by catastrophic circumstances, mental health, or choice, continue to live outside, oftentimes in public right of ways?
That question has come a head in Kern County, where the board of supervisors is considering whether to follow the lead of its counterparts in Los Angeles County with an ordinance tailored to fit local circumstances
The question — would it be more humane to force those so-called street campers to move, or more humane to let them stay until permanent housing can be arranged for them?
In the mind of Third District Supervisor Mike Maggard, there’s no question.
“The homeless people that are rational and have decided that they don’t want to live a homeless lifestyle have already moved into our shelters,” he said. “Now we have a couple of groups left. One is those that absolutely do not want to conform to any social norms and that’s how they want to live, and others that aren’t capable of making the decision.
“The people that just happened to stop one night at the stoop of a door and that’s where they slept that night, those people, many of those people, have no idea how bad their circumstances are. So this is a tool to help them get back on their meds and get their life back, stabilized, and when they are stabilized, move them into some transitional housing.”
Not everyone agrees that’s the best approach. This is Marivel Servn of the local organization Loud For.
“We all just want the best for our community,” she said, “but right now these individuals are struggling through a pandemic, are struggling through a system of poverty, and what we should be doing as a community is finding them housing and using those funds not to find more code enforcers or police to harass these individuals but instead use that money build more affordable housing, build more transitional housing and just build more shelters in general.”
But, to Maggard’s way of thinking, it’s far more humane and realistic to lift people out of homelessness through a process that takes things one step at a time toward permanent housing.
“It isn’t like some policeman is gonna come up and roust them out or arrest them,” he said. “It’s a team of people that are comprised of counselors and some mental health professionals to accompany them an
d engage there.”
Everyone agrees they have the best interests of Kern’s local homeless population at heart. Not everyone agrees on the best way to address the issue.