The city of Bakersfield has selected a tentative location for a new homeless center it hopes will alleviate the homeless “crisis” facing city streets.
Weill Park, located at the intersection of Q Street and Golden State Highway, has been tagged by city officials as the potential location for the new shelter.
The new facility would be constructed using easily-assembled material, and city officials hope to use the site for around five years, tearing it down and using the property for another purpose after the homeless crisis has receded.
Although a new site could still be chosen, the city hopes to construct between 100 to 200 beds at the proposed shelter, and use it as a hub to connect people experiencing homelessness to social services.
The project has a budget of $4 million, but no housing designs or timeline have been released. Measure N funds will be used to fund the project, along with other homelessness efforts initiated by the city.
The facility will provide “low-barrier” housing for homeless individuals, providing temporary shelter until more permanent solutions can be found.
“My goal is to see that we have more beds available, so that we can move people off the streets and into shelter, and then get them connected to services and get them into long term supportive housing,” said City Councilmember Andrae Gonazales, whose ward encompasses Weill Park. “This is a problem we see throughout the city. So it is important for us as a community to come together and support this emergency shelter.”
At a Planning Commission meeting Thursday evening, commissioners voted to recommend a zoning change to Weill Park that would allow a shelter to be built on the property.
The current zoning prevents the shelter from being constructed. Following the Planning Commission’s vote, the Bakersfield City Council will take up the issue at a future meeting.
“The community clearly needs something like this, and this is intended to help be one of the tools in our tool chest to address this growing issue,” said Assistant City Manager Jacqui Kitchen, who is overseeing the project. “We’ve heard loud and clear that we need additional space.”
In a comprehensive survey of the county’s homeless population in January, the Kern County Homeless Collaborative found that homelessness had increased by 50 percent when compared to the same survey in 2018.
City officials have said both the Bakersfield Homeless Center and The Mission at Kern County are “full.”
The proposed shelter is meant to serve individuals who cannot stay at either of the two shelters for a variety of reasons that could include the individual owning a pet or engaging in substance abuse.
“This is intended to be an interim step to get people into housing,” Kitchen said.
Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover said the city would work to replace the park by opening a new park in another area.
She said Weill Park had not been used by the public in the last decade. With no amenities, and a relatively small number of residences in the immediate area, few people make the trip to the park as it is.
One person spoke in opposition of the project during the meeting. Victoria Martinez said she wanted to make sure the city found a site for a new park since it was taking away an existing park for the neighborhood.