20190406-bc-homeless (copy)

In this file photo, a homeless man who identified himself as God's son hangs out in an alley off Baker Street with his friend, Michelle Gates. The two have been good friends for over five years.

The Kern County Homeless Collaborative will soon restructure as both the city of Bakersfield and Kern County officials aim to take a greater role in homeless mitigation efforts.

Unprecedented levels of people have lost stable housing and taken to the streets in Kern County, and city and county officials hope their new efforts will reduce what is a daily annoyance for some and a life and death struggle for others.

“This is a crisis of epic proportions,” said County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop. “Everybody notices it, everybody is being affected by it. It’s affecting our quality of life, our economy, public safety. Our supervisors are hearing about it and people want something done.”

In response, the collaborative will create a new nonprofit agency funded by the city and the county.

The agency’s one and only goal will be to reduce homelessness throughout the county, and for the first time county officials and city staff will work together in what they hope will be a winning formula.

“This is really about eliminating silos and bringing the city and county to the table so that we can have a more clear and direct conversation with the service providers and other people who are working on the issue,” said Assistant City Manager Jacqui Kitchen. “None of us have all of the answers independently.”

While no concrete plans have been established for the new nonprofit – which doesn’t even have a name yet – the entity will take on many of the financial duties handled by the Homeless Collaborative, and it will function as a sounding board for new ideas.

The Homeless Collaborative, a loose collection of local agencies that handle homelessness issues, had previously functioned largely as a volunteer organization.

“Right now, we have a lot of really hard working, dedicated, people in the Homeless Collaborative, but we all have full time jobs,” said Louis Gill, CEO of the Bakersfield Homeless Center, which is a member of the collaborative.

He noted that the members of the collaborative could only dedicate a portion of their time to Collaborative efforts.

By forming a new nonprofit with its own executive director and three support staff, the collaborative hopes to make a significant change in how the county addresses homelessness.

“It’s as simple as this,” Gill said, “if we want things to be different, we have to do things differently.”

So far, details about the nonprofit’s activities have not been fully worked out.

Alsop said the costs could run around $500,000, split between the city, county and state and federal funding sources.

A new executive board will be created to oversee the nonprofit. Two board members will be appointed by the city, two from the county, four from the Homeless Collaborative, and one appointee from the board itself.

Over the next several months, the collaborative hopes to form the board as well as hire the new director and find a place for an office.

By the time the new staff is in place, the director will be expected to bring in new funding and new ideas for future homeless projects.

However, the public should not expect homelessness to disappear overnight.

“We’ve got to manage expectations,” said Carlos Baldovinos, executive director of The Mission at Kern County. “It’s not going to end homelessness. It’s not going to solve all the homeless issues that we’ve had, but I do believe that it is going to get a more targeted effort.”

Sam Morgen can be reached at 661-395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @smorgenTBC.

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