Faced with mounting public concern and an uptick in homelessness, the Kern County Board of Supervisors held a community meeting Monday to discuss how to address the issue.
“We’re going to need a bigger boat,” said Bill Walker, director of Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.
But whether there's money to build a bigger boat remains an unanswered question.
A standing-room-only crowd listened as county leaders debuted a new plan to end homelessness in 10 years.
Called Home At Last, the plan takes a multi-faceted approach to the homeless issue by addressing the economic and social reasons a person may end up homeless as well as trying to mitigate the affordable housing shortage in Kern County.
A major part of the plan calls for the county to add 10,470 new beds in affordable housing over ten years. A recent report from the California Housing Partnership Corporation said Kern County would need 30,068 affordable rental homes to meet existing demand for affordable housing. And the Housing Authority of Kern County currently faces a wait list of around 13,000 for low-income housing.
Recently, construction of affordable housing has decreased because state and federal funding sources have dried up. By making more affordable housing available, and by providing counseling to formerly homeless people housed in those units, the collaborative hopes to cut down on the homeless numbers.
The only problem is the cost.
“The plan is good,” Walker said. “But we need more money and we need more funds.”
The Kern County Homeless Collaborative would have to apply for state and federal funds to accomplish many of its goals.
Yet hope remained.
“I believe this step is one of many steps,” said Supervisor Mike Maggard. “But I believe we can tackle this.”
With 134,278 homeless people living in California, according to the Kern County Homeless Collaborative, nearly one third of homeless people in the United States live in the Golden State.
Last year, the state experienced a 13.7 percent increase in homelessness, with Kern County seeing a 9 percent increase.
The boost in the Kern County numbers comes at the end of a long decline in the homeless population. The Homeless Collaborative reports that homelessness within the county has decreased by 40 percent in the last decade. That decrease came at the end of a decades-long plan to reduce homelessness in the county.
At the meeting, several county departments reported coming into contact with homelessness each day. Officials with the Kern County Code Compliance department said they spend $1 million annually due to the impacts of homelessness.
Sheriffs deputies respond daily to locations around to county because local residents have complained about homeless people. However, deputies sometimes cannot do anything if a homeless individual hasn't committed a crime or doesn't want help.