There's a mini-city under construction on M Street at 29th, and it looks like a promising blueprint for the care, feeding and management of a population that, increasingly, has been on our collective minds: The homeless.

The county's $3 million low-barrier homeless navigation center, due to open in late February, does not represent the entire answer but it looks like it could be an important part of it.

Two tent-like structures, grayish on the outside, brilliant silver on the inside — a passerby might think he's looking at a couple of docked UFOs — are nearing completion in an industrial area just north of the city's downtown core. The larger of the two will provide sleeping quarters for 150 people, and potentially more if stacked bunks are later deemed necessary. The smaller of the two buildings will serve as an administrative office and intake center.

Ryan Alsop, the county's chief administration officer, gave me a personal tour last week.

"It's not Disneyland," he said, "But it's what we need and what we set out to do."

Alsop has been frustrated by delays created by weather and a big surprise discovered during the excavation process: a large pipe that threw things temporarily into reverse.

"So we went from a January target date to mid-February, and now it's looking like we're getting pushed back maybe two or three weeks more into the end of February," he said. "But I'm not freaking out about it. This would typically be an 18-month construction project and it's been squeezed into three months. It's being done at record speed. But we would have liked to have it open."

The facility, situated next door to railroad tracks, the fire marshal's building and county veterans services, sits on about six acres, only half of which will be used for now. An area near the tracks has been set aside for a row of about 50 diagonally parked cars to accommodate overnight parking — what we might call car campers. 

"In and around the downtown area, whether it's in residential areas or in commercial areas, you have a lot of people you'll find sleeping in their cars because they have nowhere else to go," Alsop said. "So this allows our law enforcement officials to say, you know, mister, I'm sorry — You can't spend the night here, but we do have a nice place for you to spend the night. You can stay in your car, we're not going to ask you questions, and you will have security."

Here's where the "navigation" part of the name comes in: The shelter will be staffed by employees of Kern Medical, Behavioral Health and Recovery, the Housing Authority, Employers Training Resource, the Sheriff's Department and Community Action Partnership of Kern, or CAP-K, a nonprofit that administers more than a dozen programs for needy and underserved individuals and their families. Volunteers, including groups from Canyon Hills Church's CityServe and Flood Ministries, will also help.

The facility's proximity to the county veterans' service center is fortuitous.

"We have a lot of homeless vets, so when you talk about wraparound, one of the spokes on that wheel is veteran services and they're located right here, and so they have great access," Alsop said.

The tents, constructed of a polyvinyl fluoride or polyurethane "membrane" over thick fiberglass insulation and an aluminum substructure, are manufactured by Sprung Instant Structures Inc. of Salt Lake City, Utah. Sprung-manufactured homeless navigation centers are already in Toronto, Portland, San Diego, Fresno and elsewhere.

"It's a high tension fabric tent with all the amenities — HVAC, electricity, plumbing. Everything is all built in," Alsop said.

The facility will be patrolled by private security on a continuous basis, well lit and surveilled by cameras. Other areas will be used for the secure storage of personal belongings and kennels for animals. It will also have permanent showers and restrooms.

The county looks to be using perhaps three or three and a half of the property's six acres — land previously used by the general services and parks departments — so the facility has room to grow. That will require the conversion of some existing buildings and the demolition of others.

"We can make a game-time decision on that (expansion) when we'll see how we're doing," Alsop said. "We want to have some proof of concept and understand what it is we're dealing with. Then we can make a decision" about growing.

Will the county's homeless navigation center truly put a dent in Bakersfield's homeless problem? We should have a better idea in a few weeks.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. The views expressed here are his own.

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(12) comments

BearsEatBeets

Great start; now the real challenge begins when trying to convince the homeless to utilize this. Sure, we all want this. But do they? Time will tell

JR

I agree, getting the homeless to willingly go to the shelter will be one big headache. I don't think a lot of them are in a mental state where they understand what's being asked of them, much less agree to go there. Maybe this shelter is meant only for those who have the capacity to understand and take advantage of being safe and getting a bath and eating a decent meal.

REMUDA

Again, as stated on Alex Horvath's Photo Gallery story . . . gotta start someplace & see how it works . . . good show! If good, will be a model . . . & vice versa if not. Presume Positive . . . always . . . all ways . . . !

Oh yeah . . . it's only temporary as permanent should not be in "Buildings", but in "Behavior" . . . not only on the part of the homeless in 'Recognizing Opportunity' . . . but in Government Planning for The Future . . . (remember the "Dust Bowl" . . . ?)

JR

Huh?

mrdwm1

Even though it's just a start, it's great to see something real being accomplished.

ISpy

Where is any historical evidence that a homeless shelter, alone, does anything to fix a problem? The only data on improvement that I am seeing points toward temporary housing needing to be followed by permanent (subsidized) housing and rehabilitative programs,

JR

Yes, but I don't think the City of Bakersfield has the sophisticated, experienced, and dedicated personnel to carry off what you are suggesting. They are small town thinkers and doers and Bakersfield is a city.

JR

Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about and not familiar with who the homeless are, but a fair number of the ones I see don't appear to have the wherewithal to get to this shelter to sleep and eat and bathe on their own, or maybe don't even want to. Will they be picked up by a bus in the evening and then taken somewhere (where?) in the morning? They also seem like they'd just wonder off from the sleeping quarters in the middle of the night. And providing the homeless with just (I know this requires a great deal of money and effort and coordination) a bed, still leaves them hanging out, all around the city. during the day. But I hope this shelter works, for everyone's sake.

Abby

All good points

Gene Pool Chlorinator

Agree with your point JR. My concern is that just building shelters isn't enough- it doesn't address the varying causes of homelessness. Eventually, the new shelters will fill to capacity, and we'll still have as many- if not more homeless on the streets...

RubySue

You make a very good point. Once at the Homeless Center, will they be free to come and go as they please? Or will they have to stay for a predetermined amount of time? If they come and go, how are they going to get around? Will The GET Bus have scheduled stops and will taxpayers cover the cost? Who is paying for all of this?

She Dee

JR- I have been homeless & nothing is worse for the people than to house them in a windowless room. I don't know if I should be happy something is being done, or sad that the county of Kern appears to be taking a leap in a very STRANGE direction for a group of humans who have been sleeping outdoors for years in the fresh air. I know that I could never get myself to step inside of that tent structure without having some type of a panic attack. It's suspicious in my mind.

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