The local conversation about homelessness took a decidedly angry turn at Wednesday's Bakersfield City Council meeting.
At the meeting, in which the council heard a comprehensive update on the city's plan to address homelessness, many residents — most claiming to be connected to Bakersfield's downtown — expressed anger at the number of homeless individuals in the city and the negative effects of their presence.
"These people are not homeless, they are walking around with stolen merchandise called shopping carts," one speaker said during public comments. "These are criminals and they need to be dealt with as criminals."
Many in the crowd echoed the speaker's sentiment, saying they were fed up with what they described as a criminal element that has overrun the local homeless community.
The meeting came a day after the Kern County Board of Supervisors took the first step toward creating a new homeless shelter near downtown Bakersfield, north of Golden State Avenue.
The city, too, is looking into creating a homeless shelter that is meant to house individuals who cannot otherwise gain admittance into the existing shelters in the city.
The city's shelter, as well as the county's, is expected to be a "low barrier" shelter, which means it will accept individuals that need places to store their belongings, are in relationships, or have pets.
With a large influx of homeless individuals on the streets, city officials say the need is great for more beds to be dedicated to homelessness.
"We know we need it now, maybe yesterday," Assistant City Manager Jacqui Kitchen said during a presentation, referring to the city's plan to build a new shelter. "But we also know 150 beds isn't enough."
The city had initially considered creating a shelter near the county's proposed location, at Weill Park. But after local property owners voiced concerns about the potential for increased crime, city officials pulled back from the site.
Kitchen said that after a comprehensive search, the city had identified several sites which would be suitable for a new shelter.
But many people at the meeting did not seem pleased with the potential of the new shelter.
"Folks are angry," said Bakersfield Homeless Center Executive Director Louis Gill. He stressed the importance of the new shelter, adding, "if we want people to go somewhere, there has to be somewhere to go."
At Wednesday's meeting, the council authorized the city to select a site and draft a purchase agreement within the next 30 days.
The city also authorized the city to pursue a contracts with private security companies to patrol parts of the city that frequently deal with break-ins and vandalism.
The new contracts are meant to provide some relief to business owners who have been hit with a string of well-publicized incidents.
"It's not lost on us how frustrated you are and how frustrated we all are," said Councilmember Andrae Gonzales. He added that the city hoped to address the issue with the new shelter in addition to other measures.