For 81-year-old Kern County resident Chuck Jensen, the recent uptick in homelessness throughout the county brought back memories of his childhood.

“I grew up in Seattle in the early 1940s,” he wrote in an email to The Californian. “My grandmother was a sweet lady that gave any transient food when they knocked on her door. And there were a lot of them that did that.”

He said a chalk mark on the curb in front of the house indicated to transient people who passed through that his grandmother was an “easy touch.”

“It appears that Bakersfield has a BUNCH of chalk marks all over downtown,” he wrote.

But Jensen has trouble fathoming where the surge in homelessness has come from.

“Are they prior homeowners here in Bakersfield?” he asked. “What brings them here? Why do they stay?”

Jensen is not alone in his questions. He, along with many Bakersfield residents, say they see many more people holding cardboard signs next to stoplights and sleeping in dirty clothes behind businesses these days.

In January, the Kern County Homeless Collaborative conducted a survey of the county’s homeless population that found a 50 percent increase in homelessness over 2018.

A frequent rumor, heard often by those who work in shelters and housing services, claims Kern County’s homeless increase can be blamed on other counties busing their transient populations to Bakersfield.

“Every time we make a presentation on homelessness to the community it’s asked,” said Housing Authority of Kern Assistant Director Heather Kimmel.

But data collected by the homeless collaborative disputes this rumor.

Of the 1,330 people experiencing homelessness who were surveyed by the collaborative, none said another county paid for their bus ticket to come to Kern, and only 17 percent of respondents said they were homeless when they arrived in Kern.

“It’s not a large group at all when you look at the percentage counted,” Kimmel said.

Roughly half of those who were homeless when they got to Kern County said they came to the county because they thought they had family they could stay with, with the rest listing various other reasons.

Homeless experts say a portion of those who come to Kern County while homeless are part of a transient group of perennially homeless people who travel throughout the state and the country.

Of the roughly 83 percent of the county’s homeless population that originated inside Kern, many of them became homeless due to a lack of affordable housing, Kimmel said.

“There is a crisis directly caused by a lack of affordable housing,” she said. “You can’t solve homelessness without housing.”

And simply not enough affordable one-bedroom homes in Bakersfield exist to house everyone in need.

On top of that, mental health issues and addiction also play a role in homelessness.

Across the state, homelessness has been increasing, indicating that Kern County is not unique in grappling with this issue.

Word has spread in other communities that the growing problem has been caused by counties busing homeless people to other communities.

Some cities do have programs designed to bus certain people out of their communities.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2018 that cities like San Diego had busing programs, which critics called "Greyhound therapy."

The newspaper reported that about 1,100 people had been bused out from 2012 to 2017.

Bakersfield has been a destination of some city programs to bus the homeless out of town, according to one housing official in Lancaster.

Lisa Dawson, director of the coordinated entry system at Valley Oasis, a shelter in Lancaster, said shelters in Lancaster had bused people to shelters in Bakersfield years ago when there was space in Bakersfield but none in Lancaster.

She couldn't recall exactly when the practice took place, but said it had stopped years ago and does not currently happen.

As far as local officials who work with the homeless can tell, almost all of the homelessness in Kern County appears to be home-grown.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

(13) comments

EnriqueAcosta

I am honestly shocked at how people just ignore experts and studies in favor of their own prejudices.
If people really believe the homeless are being bussed in from other counties, then where is the evidence? Though I suppose it doesn't matter. People don't need evidence to support their bigotry.

OnyxCollector

A poorly researched article. One person, who relies on an extremely poorly run homeless census, does not equal "experts", nor facts. And who cares what someone from Lancaster has to say, they aren't in Bakersfield. Does Bakersfield.com not have an Editor?

Seriously

I distinctly remember, and I am 100% positive on this.....I read an article in the Bakersfield news that specifically talked about a program in and around the orange county area that planned to address their homeless population by sending them to kern county where they could use the services offered here for the homeless. Im absolutely certain I read about this in the news. Not long after I started reading in the news that they didn't know why people were saying the homeless were being bused in from other cities, and they didn't know where the rumor came from. I wonder if they post these things that directly contradict their selfs knowing that we are so dumbed down that we will question our own sanity, our own memories and blindly believe everything the news says...even if they one day post an article saying one thing, and the me t day, godly post an article saying they never posted the original article........UGH!!!

ISpy

Affirming that this actually does happen.

ISpy

Having worked with high-risk populations, the idea that they would have no clue that "some other county" was the source of their free bus ticket is a huge possibility. Completely inefficient way to obtain that data.

She Dee

Perhaps those who work in the system don't know what's really going on with the free bus tickets. I speak from personal experience & on many occasions was offered a bus ticket to a destination of my choosing. All I was required to get this was a telephone number of a person (preferably a relative) who resided in the same area that I wanted to be transported to. The downside was these tickets are ONE WAY & if I were to go elsewhere, I would have little to no way to return. Many other homeless I knew took these tickets & traveled to visit relatives until their time was up & they were asked to leave & went to the local Red Cross & obtained another bus ticket under guise they had medical issues & could no longer reside in HARSH WEATHER areas! They came back to Skid Row where the food was always available & the services almost non-existent! Many of the homeless know how to follow the money & each time a town receives a cash inheritance gift earmarked for the homeless, they flock there just to get the free stuff. It's a bit of a joke in some circles. Case Managers must enjoy playing dumb.

REMUDA

Let's READ IT AGAIN AND THEN BEGIN WITH THE LAST LINE . . . and CATCH THE BUZZ-WORDS . . . !
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"As far as local officials who work with the homeless can tell, almost all of the homelessness in Kern County appears to be home-grown."
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" . . . 1,330 people . . . homelessness . . . paid for their bus ticket to come to Kern . . . 17 percent . . . were homeless when they arrived in Kern."
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" . . . half . . . homeless . . . to Kern County . . . came to the county . . . thought . . . family . . . other reasons."
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". . . Homeless experts (who? state your name!) . . . portion . . . transient group . . . perennially . . . travel . . . state . . . country."
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" . . . 83 percent . . . originated inside Kern. . . homeless . . . affordable housing . . . " (ACTUAL definition of "HOMELESSNESS")
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"You can’t solve homelessness without housing.” (IS PANHANDLING LEGAL? . . . 'PORCH THEFTS ARE UP NATIONWIDE !. . . GET A JOB !. . . WORK !, , , GET UP BEFORE NOON . . . !)

"LA Times">>>>>"Greyhound therapy." (" . . . RUMOR . . . ?" BRAVO SIERRA as we say in the Navy, BTW which still recruits . . . )
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GIVE ME A FREAKIN' BREAK . . . !
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"EXPERTS" >>> "X" (has been) -"SMALL SQUIRTS UNDER PRESSURE" . . .!

Boogerface Nutter

I have no facts but I feel many of the people follow the weather. Spring comes early to Kern County. I wonder if the homeless population drops greatly in winter and in the dead of summer.

TruthScienceNow

The answer (I worked with homeless people for 20 years before retiring) no, there are just as many homeless in Bakersfield all year round. Many people want to believe this myth because they don't like too think Bakersfield is so heartless they won't invest in affordable housing for the homeless. They are.

She Dee

@TruthScienceNow- Working "with" homeless people is NOT being homeless & knowing how some of the con games come into play. It's not just happening in Kern County...it's happening all over California & a few other states where homeless services are readily available. I assure you it's NOT A MYTH!

BakoMark

Follow the money. The experts are getting paid for them being here or they are being brought here. Sacramento has been busted for sending them to the cv. It’s crazy to ignore the facts.

Django

Please provide factual data Mark.

REMUDA

OK . . . as you wish . . .
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http://www.211sacramento.org/211/online-database/categories/homeless/long-distance-fare/
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https://www.democracynow.org/2017/12/28/bussed_out_how_cities_are_giving
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https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-homeless-bus-20180312-story.html
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https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2017/dec/20/bussed-out-america-moves-homeless-people-country-study
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https://www.bakersfield.com/columnists/robert_price/l-a-s-homeless-pushed-into-kern/article_2674ac46-78e2-54f7-88e2-2536d91adf77.html
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