Bakersfield · Local

Bakersfield Mayor pushed for $20bil homeless plan. Grand Jury said city, Kern Co. stalling efforts.

A Kern County Grand Jury report 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.

Currently, the city of Bakersfield has less than a 1 percent vacancy rate.

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.

In late April, Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh joined California’s Big City Mayors Coalition to push a five year, $20 billion spending plan to combat homelessness.

At the time, Goh said that local jurisdictions were forced to pick up the slack in the state’s ever-worsening crisis and attempted to highlight Bakersfield’s efforts, despite the City Council’s rejection and stalling of two key pandemic-era homeless projects.

“We have demonstrated success in adding emergency bed space, creating permanent housing solutions, and now we must address and sustain the next phase of the challenge including providing housing, supportive services for severely mentally-ill and drug addicted persons,” Goh said at the time.

The report argued that “Not In My Backyard,” or NIMBYism is a pervasive force in halting progress at Kern County’s overwhelming homeless issues.

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.

But Grand Jurors noted that there is no one-size-fits all 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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The San Joaquin Valley Sun
Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.