Over the past several years, the Bakersfield Homeless Center has experienced a marked increase in demands for its services, while receiving less money from previously reliable funding sources.
The result is that the Homeless Center has developed at $400,000 budget deficit, throwing the organization into a funding crisis.
The short-term future of the Homeless Center could be in jeopardy if the city and county governments do not step up.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors relieved the pressure on the Homeless Center by allocating $200,000 to the organization.
“It is a must,” said Supervisor Leticia Perez during the meeting, referring to the allocation. “I think it’s the kind of direction this board should be moving when we think about the kind of human crises that exist all around us.”
CEO Louis Gill will make a presentation to the Bakersfield City Council in October, requesting matching funds from the city in order to keep the Homeless Center afloat for another year.
“We are at a critical point where we are going to have to change how we see this locally,” Gill said. “The city and the county have for a very long time relied only on federal funding to solve this local problem.”
In the past, the Homeless Center relied on funding from federal organizations like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as state agencies such as the California Department of Housing and Community Development, but in the last five years, those funds have dried up as the organizations changed their priorities.
Over the last year, unsheltered homelessness increased in Kern County by 38 percent.
This has strained the Homeless Center’s resources. The center is serving about 1,000 more meals per month than it was last year.
“I’ve been doing this for 18 years and we have watched support for these emergency services erode while demands increased,” Gill said. “Our beds are at capacity and we often put down cots and additional cribs to get more people in.”
On top of that, the California High Speed Rail Authority has informed the Homeless Center that it will be taking over the organization’s campus at 1600 East Truxtun Avenue for the high-speed rail at some point in the future. The Homeless Center just doesn’t know when.
Gill said this has caused some donors to stop donating to the upkeep of the facility because those donors know that the organization will have to relocate sooner or later.
“Quite literally since that announcement, we can track a decline in support in private donation,” Gill said.
The Homeless Center had applied for early acquisition from the rail authority in 2015, when the announcement was made it would be acquired. But in 2017, the rail authority informed the Homeless Center that efforts for early acquisition had been denied by the state.
This leaves the Homeless Center in limbo until an acquisition attempt is made.
In the meantime, sewer pipes have broken, gas lines have been capped and tens of thousands of dollars in repairs have been postponed.
Gill said he has been seeking out alternate funding sources to replace the federal and state dollars that have disappeared.
During the supervisor’s board meeting on Tuesday, the supervisors made it clear they expected their $200,000 contribution to the Homeless Center to be a one-time event.
But the Homeless Center will likely need sustained funding going into the future, especially in the interim period before the rail authority acquires their campus.
“As a community, we’re going to have to support this because we can’t have the safety net reduced,” Gill said. “This is a city and this is a county problem that we need to address.”