Less than two years after the Bakersfield Homeless Center received $400,000 from the city of Bakersfield and Kern County to address a funding crisis, the nonprofit is back, saying more money is needed to keep services available to the area’s poorest residents.
After contributions from state and federal sources dried up over the last several years, the Homeless Center has struggled to find a permanent monetary replacement, even as the need for its services have increased.
With the new coronavirus stretching resources to the limit, the Homeless Center says it will run out of money in the next few months if the city and county don’t take action. If that happens, the organization may be forced to make tough decisions about who gets a bed and who gets fed.
“It would be a tragedy for our community. We have been very fortunate as a community that we have not seen a lot of children on our street homeless,” said Homeless Center CEO Louis Gill. “Any change in that type of service would be shocking for our community and I’m not interested in seeing that happen.”
Demand for the Homeless Center's 174 beds regularly exceeds capacity, and the facility is serving 1,000 more meals per month compared to the previous year.
The Bakersfield City Council will discuss the funding shortfall at a meeting Wednesday, with Kern County supervisors taking up the issue at some point in the near future. The Homeless Center has requested $200,000 from each entity, the same amount allocated in 2018, when the nonprofit first made the request.
Despite a hesitation on the council to fund the Homeless Center on an ongoing basis, the city is expected to grant the request using a portion of the $537,127 due to it following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement local governments would be given $100 million to combat the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless.
But, in light of the recent request, the city will take action to reevaluate how it doles out contributions to local nonprofits. Councilmember Bruce Freeman requested that the city’s Budget and Finance Committee evaluate any future requests from the Homeless Center. Councilmember Ken Weir has asked city staff to overhaul the city’s system for contributing to local nonprofits, including adding ways to account for the funds once they have been given out.
Despite the one-time contribution, Gill said the city needed to take a greater role in caring for the homeless.
“It’s long been the city’s position that assisting the poorest in our community was the responsibility of the state of California and the federal government. Local dollars were not invested,” he said. “With Measure N and the pressure from the constituents in Bakersfield, the city has pivoted to become a very interested and invested partner in homeless services, but there are still basic operational needs for safety net services that should be supported.”
The Homeless Center said the funds will be used for a variety of purposes, including the purchase of operational supplies, maintenance costs and food.