A homeless transient sleeps

A homeless transient sleeps on a sidewalk in downtown Bakersfield.

It might be instructive, amid all this discussion about homelessness and emergency shelters, to get the perspective of the world's best-known homeless advocate, a man who was briefly a transient himself. He was not available for an interview, but a spokesman, Matthew son of Alphaeus, did provide a written statement on the issue:

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

Notice that Jesus of Nazareth did not add, "I was a political hot potato so you initiated another study."

Jesus, on one memorable occasion as a minor, was lucky that he and his parents were able to bed down with some amiable livestock. Many homeless folk in Bakersfield are sleeping on sidewalks and in doorways. And here comes winter.

Homelessness, with all its causes and consequences, is California's most urgent concern: Across the state, at any given time, 130,000 people can be so categorized. Its facets include poverty, drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, inadequate veterans' services, family dysfunction, domestic violence, sex abuse and a pervasive shortage of affordable housing.

Those problems must be approached individually and as interconnected elements, but in the meantime it's cold outside.

City Councilman Willie Rivera objects to the immediate purchase and conversion of a huge, underutilized cotton warehouse into an emergency shelter in his southeast Bakersfield ward. He correctly states that the city must carefully consider the decision; better options might be out there.

But, as City Councilman Bob Smith pointed out Wednesday night, shortly before the council voted to delay further action on a proposed shelter for almost three months, "there will be no perfect place." And, I will add, it's cold.

City Councilman Ken Weir suggests that "drug addicts" and "people with no respect for the law" should be excluded from any emergency shelter the city might open. Surely he is aware that a substantial number of unsheltered homeless people have substance abuse issues — 46 percent, according to a recent Los Angeles Times study. Bar those people from your city shelter and you suddenly have a lot of vacant bunks — and hundreds of people still out on the street.

And what should we make of "people with no respect for the law"? Some 51 percent of the unsheltered homeless, according to the same survey, suffer from some form of mental illness, including PTSD. I'm guessing that could help explain some of that perceived lack of respect.

Now this new city shelter is really starting to empty out. And it's still getting colder.

Yes, it would be foolish to build this emergency shelter in the first adequately sized property that becomes available. Location within the community matters. Public safety, effects on property values, proximity to existing services — all are considerations. In the case of Ward 1, Councilman Rivera is already waist-deep in a long-running and often frustrating effort to lift the Cottonwood-Lakeview area out of poverty and blight, and placing a large emergency shelter just down the road from the focus of that work could have real and symbolic impacts.

And so we have undeniably competing considerations: Immediate need, incomplete short- and long-term planning, the reality that no site will be ideal, a lack of understanding of some of the issues, justifiable NIMBYism and shortages of empathy.

We Bakersfield residents like to describe ourselves as friendly and big-hearted, but those characteristics have been getting harder to spot since the homeless question started monopolizing headlines and ratcheting up rhetoric.

Ron Vietti, pastor of Valley Bible Fellowship, took heat for a Facebook post in which he urged city officials to choose a location other than the 70,000-square-foot Calcot Ltd. warehouse on East Brundage Lane, near his church (and in Rivera's ward). When online criticism ensued, calling out Vietti for failing to honor a basic Christian tenet — service to the downtrodden — he deleted the post, swore off Facebook and sought to clarify that his main objection was really the proposed shelter's size, not so much its proximity.

At least he was entirely civil about it. One reader, commenting on Sam Morgen's article on last week's City Council meeting, wrote, "This state has gone downhill. It should be a crime to be homeless." Another reader, in a now-deleted comment, suggested that street people be shot. Ah, the courage of anonymity.

The vast majority of story commenters, however, have supported the prompt establishment of an emergency shelter. That was also the case at last week's City Council meeting, where a succession of local residents went to the public microphone. Among the supporters was Bill Walker, director of Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, the county's mental health agency, who grasps the depth and immediacy of the problem.

A new emergency shelter is, by itself, not the answer. Researchers at last week's California Economic Summit in Fresno suggested that communities adopt four strategies: create local accountability standards based on homelessness data; decrease the inflow of at-risk people into homelessness; address those in crisis on the streets now; and provide exit strategies that involve permanent housing. 

Emergency shelter construction is only the third item in that four-part approach, but it's what's most visible and can most immediately be addressed. The problem demands interconnected answers in all four areas, but first things first: It's still getting colder.

You never know, in the course of saving lives, who might emerge from the ruins. Some homeless transient, nursed back to stability, could go on to change the world. It has happened before.

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.

(40) comments

R1313

There are far more advanced countries, like Switzerland, who have already drive the research.

Housing, training, employment and treatment (not forced).

Surviving on the streets is not easy, the body is in a constant fight or flight mode with the added bonus of sleep deprivation.

A Safe and secure place to sleep is the foundation of the pyramid to freedom.

Lilyrose

She Dee:

Why do you and others write or say this,

"Force feeding a work ethic will never work for the good of the street people"

?

Chemical dependency is Bakersfield's largest problem.

Address that and homelessness will solve itself. Until then the bed count will only rise and millions will be spent of taxpayers money instead of the companies that pollute the body.

She Dee

Perhaps you are not aware that a lot of the people living in the streets are not using drugs or alcohol or prescription drugs of any kind due to the fact that it is well known this makes you a target for the group who loves to go out to "play" with the street people for their sick entertainment venues. That said, I was clean & sober when I lived in the streets & in shelter awaiting my SSDI to be approved. WE (all of us) must begin to see the beauty of each individual if we are to get past the negative visuals the so many seem to be concentrating on. I know it's not just me who has problems seeing past the bad in order to get to the good, but for me, it's not as simple to just keep my mouth shut and continue to look the other way. Even though Bakersfield is no longer my current home, I have over 36 years total living in Bakersfield, previously owned & operated a business with my former spouse, owned properties, cars, sent my child to dance lessons, served on the PTA & participated in the Downtown Business Association in the days when Cathy Butler ran it. A nasty divorce forced me to leave the area, then a work injury got me on welfare, living in substandard housing (over a meth lab) got me sicker than I have ever been & that's when I made some poor decisions about the people I allowed into my life. Yes, for a short time, I did use drugs & I was able to kick that habit. But I went back to alcohol to ease the pain of life, got some counseling, was clean & sober for years before I became homeless after I was a victim of a violent crime. My life has not been perfect & I don't have all the answers. I just know that to see the things that I have seen, repeating itself in Bakersifeld, saddens me to no end & lights a fire under me to TRY my best to help shed some light on the subject that I know very well...homelessness & being looked down upon because you have less. This is not the America that I worked so hard for in the 1960's & 70's. End hunger, & give a person a safe place to lay theirs heads when it's cold & a cool place when it's over 100. Then start to build affordable housing for the people who need it & want it. Some people are happy living off the land. We don't see too many of them in the news.

She Dee

Lilyrose, Chemical Dependency starts in the home. Our first home is the womb. Once we are born, we are taught by our caregivers & society. Only when we re-parent ourselves, can we begin to have the life we truly want. Until then, we are all victims of circumstance, in my view!

REMUDA

Too many comments to read & respond, but one observation:

"A homeless transient sleeps on a sidewalk in downtown Bakersfield."

Picture taken (no credit?) at High Noon in the glaring sun? Concrete, no underblanket or cover (white stuff aside?)?

Posed?

Karen Goh?

"Price" LESS!

She Dee

Posed or not, REMUDA, I can tell you that when I lived in the streets & had a shopping cart for a brief time, that when a person sits on the bare sidewalk, they are less likely to get a ticket for loitering. Why? It's harder to prove in court if you don't have a cushion for comfort. Many of us had constant kidney infections from sitting on cold concrete. A Police Officer was the one who gave me this piece of advice. He said, "When I tell you to move along, you better move or you won't get a ticket, you'll get my baton to the side of your head & I won't call 911 for any of you"! That was before they had to wear Police Cams & there were no security cameras on every corner!

Miss Milis

Remuda wrote about the photo:

"(no credit?)"

Uh, it's right there under the photo. Snapped by Bob Price himself.

Vico17

Growing up with almost nothing, my dad shared the Aesop's fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper. I must have been 7 or 8 when I first heard about working and saving for the tough winter months. I doubt my dad knew about Aesop but the story should be shared with every kid before it's too late.

Mrknowitall

Yeah EVERYONE had a dad. Not only that, but all those dads read Aesop’s Fables as bedtime stories I their two-story houses in their custom neighborhood with a 4 car garage. So silly. And not even a sliver of thought that the American Dream you were fortunate enough to live is not available to everyone. By golly. Lol. The Cleavers and Mayberry were parceled out to small selected groups, Buddy. Oh...you had no idea did you? And guess who the majority of that “group” consisted of? Yup. My work is done here

She Dee

Vico17- Those were also the days when the local Sheriff would take people home when they had too much to drink or allow them to sleep it off in the jail, without booking them & ruining their lives with a bad record for being drunk in public. I happen to think that schools need to start teaching kids how to deal with life on the streets, in case their parents are forced to take them there.

BC228

I say look at these empty motel and use it.. already built and rooms available

She Dee

ROBERT PRICE...You have redeemed yourself in this article. You hit a lot of excellent points & it's still getting colder outside. Many of the responses are solidly frozen & filled with scriptural misgivings toward humanity. Seems the days of separation of Church & State have fallen by the wayside & B-Town has been taken over by the same non-profit element that I experienced while I was living in the streets of San Diego & Los Angeles. Gives new meaning to a song by a local boy entitled "PLEASE LEVEL MY TOWN FIRST". Circa 1985-86 by Big Jeddd! I know I won't be back until I'm ready to die. Seems there is no life in B-Town worth living around...yet!

Conscience of Bakersfield

I doubt we have a better site than this one suggested. Willie Rivera is clearly playing politics at the detriment of the homeless. He had every opportunity, as did the rest of this board, to get involved with the process before it came to a vote. He could have voiced his opposition before it came to a vote and help create a solution, so we could get this going. This problem is not going away and we need to address it now!

Copper

The government is actively kicking the mentally I’ll even those with schizophrenia off of SSI a lot of these peopledepend on this to live and pay for housing including their board and care. You think we have a problem know wait till these poor souls are all kicked off .

She Dee

Copper- I'm physically disabled & the county that I currently live in is also kicking people off of their SSI benefits with a vengence. I have been investigated 3 times in 3 years. They call it "re-evaluated". All because the say they can! Keep all of your appointments & always answer their demand letters if you want half a chance to keep what you are entitled to, people! I agree, this is going to get much much worse & many will die in the streets this winter. I am willing to bet 90+% getting dumped from SSI are registered Democrats or Libertarians.

Lilyrose

She see:. What is SSI ? A fund ? Given by who?

Lilyrose

I am very sorry to read about your life situation, divorce and drugs. It's horrible. Thank you for sharing.

Often I see people who give excuses for bad behavior from others often continue that after leaving an unhealthy relationship.

It's time we hold humans to a higher standard. Understand ?

And if you desire citizens to have , as you write : "Then start to build affordable housing for the people who need it & want it."

I agree. But that is different from giving beds .

As I have said before , " barn raising " time is here.

She Dee

A fund designed to assist those in need. You have to have a licensed physician or mental health professional sign off on the forms provided & the 1st time almost everyone is denied. That's when you reapply or get an attorney to assist you with the process. Many of us paid into the system (when we worked) before we became disabled. Everyone pays into the social security system. Everyone is reevaluated whenever the county you reside in decides to do it. It cuts down on fraud. That's what they told me anyway.

Lilyrose

She Dee ,

Thank you for informing me about SSI.

The distance between the Haves and Have Nots is great. Keep speaking up about what you know. But understand that middle class Americans are tired of paying both the Wealthy and the Un-wealthy.

Jerry Todd

Your last sentence and your point about "force feeding work" are troubling. I gave a Gleaners example of people helping at the warehouse and being rewarded for it on a very short fuse - a single morning tor more if desired.

Your claim that "90% getting dumped from SSI are registered Democrats or Libertarians." The implication is Republicans would throw them in the streets, but not Democrats. The only Democrats getting thrown off SSI or any other program would be illegals posing as registered voters. The Gleaners were formed by 4 men, 2 Republicans and 2 Democrats, all Catholics.

So far, you've made no suggestions, only complained about what others have done to you. Maybe you could get off your high horse and lay out a program based on your vast experience. You're right. No one can walk in your shoes, nor you in mine.

She Dee

Jerry Todd- That was not a claim. I merely state that I WAS WILLING TO BET. Don't try to take part of my sentence & run with it. People like you sicken me. I have made suggestions on other posts. You just haven't taken the time to read them. It's not just about what has been done to me. It's about what I have seen done to so many people in so many places. Do you get paid to stick up for your brethren or just to attack all who speak out of turn, according to your value system? There is good & bad in all aspects of life. Religion & Politics should be 100% out of the equation when it comes to assisting those in need of services. I cannot stop a person from praying for me anymore than it appears I can be forced into bowing my head in prayer for a meal. I can wash dishes. But most places don't allow the homeless to work in kitchens with a valid food handlers card.

Copper

I do believe this is trump policy

Lilyrose

Cold winter's in Bakersfield ? Come on !

Dry up the source of drugs/dealers/houses/weapons and the price will rise. Drug business will relocate and " homelessness" will decline here.

But, nope in a community that says they care they really don't. From the sky down to the multi pits in the ground Bakersfield is filled with one form or another of chems.

Do you see a pattern yet ?

Homeless shelters isn't a real solution.

Healthy habits and co-op building of homes are.

Jerry Todd

Robert starts of the discussion correctly. The care and feeding of the homeless is first the responsibility of the family, then the community, especially and including the church. This follows the principle of subsidiarity. Unfortunately, the essential solidarity component is working against us with our state government creating this crisis.

Prior to the Protestant Reformation, the Church lands were used for the poor to occupy in return for labor or crops. One of the causes of the Reformation was the lust for Church lands by the elites of Germany.

Robert missed one line of Scripture that didn't fit his call for compassion.

2 Thessalonians 3:10 New International Version (NIV)

10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

With the Golden Empire Gleaners, we had volunteers who would work for a morning. They got fed a hot lunch and sent home with a bag of groceries. I don't know if they still do that, but I'd take it as a clue to solving the problem. Those who are willing to work, after finding what they are capable of, gives them dignity and a full stomach. If they won't work, they'll move on to where there are easier pickings.

The dignity of work will go a long way toward solving the problem while restoring many lives.

She Dee

The line "One who is not willing to work shall not eat" was written during a time that people had to grow & gather their own food if they wanted to eat. So, if I were to decipher that into a relevant meaning in today's world, I would say it means that farm labor camps are about to be put into use again. Translations aside, it sure sounds like you just want to force people into your way of thinking. In other words....Believers in Christ Only. Some of us are not of your way & that's the main issue. Is it any wonder that CRIME is on the rise?

Jerry Todd

That's what we named the Golden Empire Gleaners for. Ruth and Naomi gleaned Boaz' field and later Ruth and Boaz became progenitors of Jesus.

You were sure quick to jump on this about what I believe and farm labor camps. Not a bad idea in itself, but there are thousands of ways the street folks could be shown work, as I stated, "according to their capability." I also made note of returning them to the dignity of work. What is more satisfying that having accomplished something? Maybe we could better spend our time thinking of ways to start them on a path to recovery and positive contribution to the community.

they are human after all.

She Dee

What if their "job" was just to do what they are doing until the helping hand agencies stopped treating them like 2nd class citizens? As I have said in many of my prior posts on the subject of living in the streets...PTSD doesn't just disappear because you give a person a bed with a set of clean sheets on it in a room with flowers on the walls. It does make the givers feel good, but no one seems to be able to relate to what it's like to have night terrors & memories of the "horrors" of street life. It's just not as simple as I hear you saying it will be to put people to work & send them on their merry way. It takes YEARS to get back a sense of security. Yes, I am a human & I get fed up when I read thing that show a complete & utter lack of understanding or empathy for those who live in the streets. They have a home. They just need to have a choice to find a different one when the time is right. Hunger should not be happening in America. I am well aware of how do-gooders can become do-badders. All in the name of "community service". Force feeding a work ethic will never work for the good of the street people... In my opinion... as well as my 5 years on the streets & 5 additional years living a transient life.

Copper

That doesn’t apply to the gravelly mentally ill on the streets .what is wrong with you?

DesertSon

Pretty sure we stopped asking, “WWJD” several years ago. Apparently, modeling Christian values only matters when it doesn’t cost anything.

JR

It's complicated. The four-part plan Robert Price lists in this article breaks down into dozens and dozens of smaller parts and requires experts in homelessness, city planning, sociologists, psychologists, and local officials to work together to create a shelter(s) that addresses all of those area. But it is getting colder and if I were homeless and sleeping in doorways I would start to panic and ask for just one thing: a dry, warm, safe place to spend the night. Can't this be provided, right now, as an emergency answer, until the permanent shelters are ready?

Mrknowitall

Your point is THE point. Do something now, even if temp. Things in motion tend to stay in motion. Those that are still tend to stay motionless. Like momentum on fixing the problem.

I concur however, I do not believe we as a county should get mired in the weeds of psychologists and sociologists etc. That makes for lotsa red tape and basically turns into big $ jobs for the friends of those at the city n county departments. Forget all that. Just provide SIMPLE essentials. Shelter. Security. Sustenance. Period. Nothing else. That puts em outta nature’s harsh conditions and not lost victims for thugs. That is highly coveted by the homeless and conventional citizens. Drug n mental issues. Sure. But that’s another story for another day.

Vico17

For someone who claims to know a lot you failed to read and internalize the first phrase "growing up with almost nothing". It is not very difficult to surmise we grew up dirt poor and only survived because we worked when there was work, and didn't squanderd the little we earned (not on commodities, luxuries or drugs) we saved for the lean times. We lived in a dirt floor and my father had a 3rd grade education. He, to his wisdom, without knowing anything about any Greek writer knew the meaning of the fable told to him at some earier time in his upbringing. Stop pretending you know so much and talking down to people. You fail at everything you pretend to be and claim to know.

DocMike

I think the high speed rail purchase of current homeless campus is a game changer. With a county and city plan for low barrier shelters...I see reactive planning...not thoughtful master plan. Glad the Brundage plan is stalled...too much money and bad remote location.

Fram Smith

Another spot on article by Bob Price. The vote of

0 - 6 by the city council not to open a Homeless Shelter on Brundage was a huge mistake. It was proof positive that there is a prerequisite to getting a new homeless center in Bakersfield . We will need to replace the current members of the city council , with people who are more qualified and can make the big decisions. However , with the job of being a city council member paying $100 a month , plus benefits , it may be difficult to get regular people who do not have a vested interest , to run for city council. Made the people of bakersfield would be better served by a full time city council , like other city's our size. In any regard , the 0 - 6 vote not to approve the homeless shelter on Brundage should cost all the members of the city council to be voted out of their volunteer jobs.

Copper

Who are the 6 members? When do we vote fir that and who’s running against them?

GetReal2

Willie Rivera, et tu?

bakodon

Bob, excellent article. You must keep their feet to the fire. We should have had a general plan of action by now. instead with have a city staff with rocks for brains. They have no idea how to solve this problem. The Cal Cot (10 million dollars and counting) plan will become a big debacle with no one to blame. It is so easy to spend others (ours, taxpayer) monies.

In my opinion there are so many alternatives we could put in place in just weeks or months. There are two large parking lots right behind the police department, just south of the tracks. How about immediately setting up tents, porta potties and showers and a field kitchen? This would be a temporary move to see if the "homeless" even want a low barrier shelter. Also how come no one has a comment or idea or plan to deal with the truly mentally ill homeless that desperately need our help, TODAY! Unless this is discussed and resolved, we are all wasting our time. Why haven't the city joined the County in their joint project? Also you write about the Bakersfield "community", where ar all the non profits? Churches, Gleaners, etc.

With that said i would also like to comment on our bobble head do nothing City Council...we do not deserve these idiots...they do not have a clue after being led by an impotent city staff for so long by the current city manager, Tandy! And what is so dad Tandy is grooming his second in command for his position. What a mistake that would be. We must have new leadership and hopefully the people are fed up with their bobble head council and photo op mayor!

yorkies2014

its crickets out there.....good job Bob.......

scottybob

Maybe during the study period we might send some of our city fathers and mothers to places like Montana, Minnesota, Vermont and Maine, to see what they do in this cold 40 degree weather to help the street people. I grew up in their kind of weather (20 below zero), and the only people I saw dead in the streets were those working hard to clear snow from the sidewalks. Well, that would be too simple a way to find out the how and why? Maybe they all moved to California.

She Dee

No need to leave the state. Just go to Humboldt County & look at a town by the name of EUREKA if you wanna see what happens & Shasta County is also a great place to look at if you want to get a good look at what hate towards the homeless can do to a community. The homeless end up hating them as much as they are hated & the result is shocking. Tons of trash, endless crime & a Police Department who could care less about responding to anyone about anything because it's just too "dangerous" for them to respond these days due to the massive population of Veterans with PTSD who own guns & have skills many of the law enforcement people do not. I live in a town that REQUIRES all neighbor disputes to have restraining orders in place before they (PD) will get involved in "neighbor complaints". People know they have no backup & the homeless are easy game for the hunters. Most don't have guns. It does get down into the low 30's in Kern & it's a damp cold, which is brutal on the lungs.

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