At 3:30 a.m. Jan. 24, five teams of three to four people each met at the Delano Association for the Developmentally Disabled to start this year’s homelessness Point-In-Time count.
Included among the counters was Kern County District 4 Supervisor David Couch. The PIT is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandated count of a community’s homeless population.
Thanks to great logistical support from DADD, Delano Police Department and from the Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative, teams had a good sense of where to go to find people experiencing homelessness, which led to an unofficial count that is quite surprising.
According to Elvia Mendez, Delano Homeless Collaborative PIT count coordinator, unofficially reported about 70 people experiencing homelessness were counted in Delano and four more in McFarland on that early January morning. She added that there are more in backyards, in fields, hidden, that weren’t counted that night.
The count is important because it helps local communities understand the extent of their problem and how best to solve this problem. Last year, the count in Delano was 45.
Partly because of last year’s count, a group of concerned agencies, lead by Couch’s office, began meeting to discuss ways to begin dealing with homelessness in Delano. To date, they have made several significant strides, with even greater progress in the very near future.
“Delano is the second largest city in Kern County, but too often the Bakersfield metro area consumes all the resources for homelessness and the other communities get left out,” said Couch. “I wanted to make sure we organized and were able to get some of the needed resources for north Kern.
“I think we’ve got a good start and I promise you I will continue to work to get the funds necessary to help Delano with their very real problem,” he added.
Along those lines, the group that was formed, the Delano Homeless Collaborative, has been meeting regularly for the past year.
Through Linda Hinajosa at the Delano Community Alliance, the group administers a hotel voucher program that has been used to place some homeless individuals who are in a short-term crisis into a hotel for a short period of time. Hinajosa uses funding that she receives from Flood Ministries, which manages the hotel voucher program. Several families and individuals have benefitted from this program.
Couch was also instrumental in getting Delano’s new recovery station, soon to be opened along the 800 block of Main Street. Now when Delano police have a publicly intoxicated individual, under the influence of drugs suspect or someone with mental concerns having a public crisis, officers can check them into the recovery station instead of taking them to Lerdo Jail for the night, he explained.
”When I suggested to (Bill Walker) that the county’s second recovery station should be located in the county’s second largest city, he was more than willing to work with us,” he noted.
“This will save Delano PD time and money, and allow for a much more humane solution to the crisis these individuals are experiencing. It will allow them to get case management and counseling, rather than just lock up,” said Rhonda Barnhardt, who does special projects for BHRS.
The station’s anticipated opening is later this spring.
But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the Delano Homeless Collaborative is on our doorstep, said Mike Gutierrez, executive director of DADD. After checking with his board, he noted that the homeless population, already very prevalent in downtown Delano, might be better served at some sort of navigation center.
“That’s where the homeless can be offered a meal and a rest from the outdoors, and can be talked to, ministered to and aided in their path to reconvey,” Gutierrez said. "It is called a navigation center because it can help a community navigate its homeless population through their crisis and to the services and family members that might be available to them that can help them get back on their feet.”
Throughout California, these navigation centers are seen as ways to not just move the problem or ignore the problem, but solve the problem, at least for some, he said.
“When I saw that the Delano community was actively making strides to solve their problem, I wanted to make sure that at least some of the millions of dollars making their way to Kern County to deal with homelessness made it to Delano," Couch said. “We’ve been able to secure some start up funding of $250,000, with more coming as the community applies for annual state and federal grants set aside for this purpose. This can get this navigation center started and can go a long way toward solving the problem of homelessness in Delano.”