Tom Richardson

Tom Richardson was dudded-out for his Sunday morning motorcycle ride. 

Tom Richardson was dressed to the nines Sunday morning, resplendent in his biker best. As a cancer survivor, he was taking this Distinguished Gentleman's Ride seriously.

He rode into Bakersfield's Beach Park in a white suit on a Harley-Davidson Springer Softail, one of 57 riders participating in the Triumph Motorcycles-sponsored global fundraiser for prostate cancer research. Beaming with pride and gratitude — he overcame what doctors described to him 25 years ago as terminal non-Hodgkin's lymphoma — Richardson stopped to snap a photo of the distinctive sculpture in Cancer Survivors' Plaza.

And then he saw it, blaspheming the moment. Something outrageous and wildly, inappropriately, out of place: A six-inch turd, right there on the concrete floor of the plaza alongside the park's bronze expression of joy, victory and freedom.

"I'm all dressed up, like everyone, and I'm having a little moment" of poignancy, Richardson said. "I'm getting my angle for a good photo and suddenly there's this, this Snickers bar. Mr. Hankey lying dead, right there. I went from this emotional climax to this toilet moment."

If you live, work or play anywhere near downtown Bakersfield or central-city parks like Beach, you've probably experienced a disgusting moment like this. If you run a downtown business, it's a virtual certainty.

The explosion of homelessness on city streets has manifested itself in a number of ways: Panhandling outside stores and at traffic intersections, and encampments in parks and right-of-ways, to name just two.

Human feces is another.

Now, finally, there is action on the poop front. Starting Monday, the city of Bakersfield began contracting with a private cleaning service to remove human excrement from downtown Bakersfield and Old Town Kern. Crews will respond to requests for cleanup between 6:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., Monday through Friday.

Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, whose Ward 2 includes the downtown area, proposed the arrangement. It's a $91,000, three-month pilot program, funded by the public safety and vital services tax measure, that is contracting with Alert Disaster Restoration, a private, certified fire damage/environmental service that's apparently branching out into this sign-of-the-times specialty. A handful of large cities, most notably San Francisco, have had scoop-up teams for some time now.

So far, so good. Or so bad, depending on how we're scoring.

"By 10 o'clock Monday, the first day, we already had 15 calls," Gonzales said.

Gonzales announced the program Saturday via Facebook and, although many constituents congratulated and thanked him, some said it wasn't enough.

Gonzales agreed.

"We're looking at different ways we can mitigate the impact of the current crisis, and this is just one," he said. "We're trying to address the issues for those experiencing homelessness. At the same time we have to address the needs of the downtown property owners. We're calling it the human waste cleanup program."

I prefer Poop Patrol, but Gonzales doesn't have much of a sense of humor on this particular matter.

"It's a serious issue, a public health issue that we have to respond to," he said. "We'll address it and we'll move on to other solutions. Access to public toilets is something else we need to discuss."

So are increased police foot patrols, a "navigation center" for the homeless that will include service providers who can help with employment and job training, a new shelter with 150 additional beds, and a $5 million investment in affordable housing this fiscal year.

But downtown business owners will be especially happy about the Ex (-crement) Men.

It's about time, said Richardson, a former Bakersfield College football player and nightclub bouncer turned community theater actor.

"I was at an audition for 'Crazy for You' at the Ovation Theatre one night but I was committed to 'A Christmas Carol' down at Stars Theatre," he said. "So I walked from the Ovation down the alley from Eye Street to Chester (Avenue). That's two blocks, and I saw six piles.

"That's not cool. That's how we came up from the Dark Ages: We got sanitation, we got sewer systems. I scream all the time about this and it looks like Andrae is finally doing something about it. I have to give credit where it's due."

To report feces and request the cleanup crew, call 661-319-0000. The crew works on a first called, first served basis.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(6) comments

JimmyDude

$91,000 for 3 months of Poop Patrol. 4 hours a day 5 days a week.

$91,000 / 3 months = $30,300 a month / 4 weeks = $7583 a week / 20 hours = $379.11 an hour to pick up s**t.

Am I getting that right?

REMUDA

As if they didn't know WHAT they were doing . . . these homeless KNOW EXACTLY .l . . and do it because . . . they LIKE IT . . . ! "As If they could only be . . . (ha!). . . rehabilitated ". . .they would try to ask, come forward, show hope . . . ! But that's the 'meth-age' we're in and many are young dudes and chicks of the "Age of What's Yours is Mine . . . ". The parks are only there to charge their phones on the outlets and trash their used needles . . . and other paraphernalia to 'share' and contraband. Mental illness . . . ? Give me a break! It's attitude of choice . . . !

For now . . .

scottybob

Many of these people were well cared for, before our feel-good socialists kicked them out of state facilities and jails/prisons. Mental illness is not a choice, but refusing to follow rules is a personal decision, some of which is a direct result of our Godless and fatherless society which has become the norm. I've heard it said somewhere that Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because of the sins, but because they had become acceptable activity. Zelah.

7nickfish

This has nothing to do with housing. You could give them a home and they would trash it and leave it before the paint dries. No one gets it! There are a large % that will not live where you want them or do what you would want them to do. I talk to these people. They abhor the fact that people try and control them or tell them what to do.. Housing will not resolve the biggest part of the homeless issues

yorkies2014

why not just put in some green areas with some well maintained public restrooms.... like very small parks...most people prefer a porcelain crapper to a cement sidewalk.....didn't they just spent a jillion dollars asphalting over the neighborhoods in that area?

JR

Good article. And Andrae Gonzales deserves kudos for getting rid of probably the most problematic thing about homelessness. But the jobs and training idea for the homeless is confusing to me. I rarely see a homeless person who could do a job because they are too far removed from that way of life. Maybe there are different degrees of being homeless that I'm not aware of but it's inconceivable to me that some poor soul wearing filthy clothing, barefoot, and wondering in and out of traffic, and covered with cuts and abrasions could just pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and go into work. Something besides jobs needs to be implemented for the homeless, something that keeps them safe and healthy and rewards them for respecting those around them.

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