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Couch's Corner: By bringing people together, good things are possible

Recently, an effort came together that I am very proud of, even if I had little to do with it. In Arvin, Mayor Olivia Trujillo hosted the first Laborers of the Harvest food distribution on Feb. 22 in a parking lot behind storefronts off Bear Mountain Boulevard. It was a great turnout, with music blaring, a large number of volunteers handing out food, and long lines of people receiving much-needed stocks of supplemental food.

I say I had little to do with it because sometimes my role is to bring good people together and then they do all the hard work. But by bringing them together, good things are possible. In this case, my District 4 office staff was able to introduce Mayor Trujillo with Shari Rightmer, who runs the Laborers of the Harvest program in Taft. After that, they ran with it, and before you knew it, locations for distribution were found, donations of food were brought together, volunteers were solicited, and a hugely successful event was organized in Arvin, where, most importantly, hungry people were fed.

Their efforts don’t stop with that event. Expect to see these events in Arvin frequently, every two weeks, and expect this to grow. That first evening, Gilbert Alvarado, Shafter City Council member, came to the Arvin event and asked how it could be replicated in Shafter. Key people are already gathering to organize a similar event in Shafter as we speak. And in a separate positive direction, in addition to the food distribution events, this same group is meeting to find solutions to homeless problems in Arvin and Lamont. Already, they have mobilized grant writers, pastors at local churches, and key officials from the county and local communities to find funding, meet with the homeless, and develop a navigation center to help the homeless and the community navigate through the challenges associated with homelessness toward services, solutions and improvements to their lives and the community.

With the active support of the Arvin Mayor Trujillo, it will be easier to get the funding and support to help with homelessness in Arvin and Lamont, but Mayor Trujillo also wants to copy a few other good ideas from Taft. In Taft, Shari Rightmer has mobilized her homeless community and volunteers into an amazing army of helpers who clean Taft’s alleys, run food distribution programs in Taft, and look for other places and ways to help. In fact, many of the “volunteers” who were feeding the folks from Arvin on Feb. 22 were Taft’s homeless volunteers.

Shari’s homeless “peeps”, as she calls them, have thrived in an environment where their self-worth is cultivated, and with that newly found sense of purpose, they are a formidable force trying to do good, making Taft and other communities better even though nightly they may lay their head on a rock under a tree.

It's a different model for dealing with homelessness than the current model that focuses on finding housing first for those most in need because it’s very low budget and starts with trying to build self-worth into the homeless community. For those where this approach succeeds, the homeless community themselves becomes the positive force for good in the community — quite a difference from what we so often see on the streets. In fact, in Taft, one council member stated that the homeless community of Taft was making Taft better, not worse, through their hard work cleaning alleys and feeding the hungry.

In Delano, while we continue to develop our navigation center, which should be ready to open soon, I am confident that these techniques of building self-worth in the homeless community will be deployed there as well. In my role, I promise to do my part to help fund and create this sort of “doing good” culture in Delano’s navigation center too. I want city officials, the police chief in particular, to be able to report that the navigation center, and the homeless people who use it, were part of the solution, not the problem.

So while the hard work is being done by others, I’m just thrilled that as your county supervisor we can be a part of this vibrant group of volunteers, some of whom are homeless or formerly homeless, who just want to be a positive force in the community. Even though in some cases our role may be limited, we will do whatever we can to help people in their communities deal with this current homeless crisis.

If you have questions, feel free to email us at distrct4@kerncounty.com or call at 661-868-3680. Have a safe week.

David Couch represents Kern County’s 4th District.