Bakersfield

Kern Co. targets camping ban on homeless

Kern County is looking to clamp down growing public health and safety issues tied to the region’s unabated homelessness crisis.

On Tuesday, the Kern County Board of Supervisors is set to schedule a public hearing for a proposed ordinance that would ban camping in public areas. 

The county administrative office is requesting the board to hold the hearing during its meeting on Nov. 9. 

If the ordinance eventually passes, all camping, sitting and lying down with the intent to camp in public areas in a way that obstructs vehicles or pedestrian access will be outlawed. Examples of public areas listed in the ordinance include sidewalks, streets, alleys, doorways, parking lots, parks, underpasses and riverbeds. 

All camping will also be prohibited within 500 feet of K-12 schools, daycares, youth centers, libraries and facilities that provide housing shelter and supportive services for the homeless. 

The ordinance further bans camping within 10 feet of a public sidewalk or curb adjacent to property zoned for residential use. 

People will also be prohibited from storing, using or placing personal property in public areas. 

Notably, the ordinance precludes enforcement if there are not any shelter spaces available for the homeless at the time. Enforcement officers would be required to confirm in advance of issuing a citation 

The ordinance includes the following exceptions for people in public areas: 

  • Sitting, lying down or sleeping because of a medical emergency. 
  • Sitting on a chair or bench that was placed in a public right of way by an adjacent property owner or tenant. 
  • Sitting on a sidewalk within a designated bus zone while waiting for public or private transportation. 
  • Sitting or lying in a public area while participating or attending an event, such as a parade, festival or rally. 

The proposal comes at a time homelessness continues to rise in Kern County and follows a similar measure adopted by the City of Los Angeles.

According to the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative point in time count, Kern County has at least 2,150 people experiencing homelessness in 2021. 

That number has risen drastically over the past several years. In 2017, the point in time county found 810 individuals, and 2018 saw a modest increase to 885. 

By 2019, however, the number of homeless people in Kern County rose above 1,300, and the total approached 1,600 in 2020. 

In a letter to the board, County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop summed up the issues that arise with unregulated homeless encampments sprawled in public places. 

“On any given night, homeless encampments may be occupied by multiple individuals,” Alsop wrote. “Homeless encampments occur without appropriate sanitation facilities or proper trash receptacles and often become contaminated with garbage, human waste, and used needles resulting in occupants, the general public, and public servants facing serious health and sanitation issues.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.