The future of a new homeless shelter in Bakersfield is uncertain after the City Council voted to delay the purchase of a property that could have serves as the location.
While council members said they needed more time to consider buying an office complex at 1900 E. Brundage Lane that could have provided beds for up to 450 homeless individuals, the nearly three month delay will temporarily stifle attempts to get the homeless off of the streets of Bakersfield, where they have been overwhelming local service providers for more than a year.
“The City Council is letting Bakersfield burn with the homeless crisis,” said Jim Wheeler, executive director of Flood Ministries, a street outreach organization. “If you want to deal with that problem right now, then you have to have a solution right now. You can’t put it off for three months. Who knows what’s going to happen in three months? There’s no guarantee that three months from now, that everybody is going to be satisfied and they will be able to move forward.”
The Bakersfield City Manager’s Office had strongly endorsed the Brundage Lane property, which served as the headquarters for Calcot Limited, a grower-owned cotton cooperative. The city claimed at Wednesday’s council meeting that the facility was buffered from residential areas by several blocks of industrial businesses, and the impact on the surrounding area would be minimal.
Assistant City Manager Jacqui Kitchen said at the meeting that passersby may not even know the site was a homeless shelter.
But several members of the surrounding communities attended the meeting to voice their opposition, speaking in public comments that lasted for hours. Concerns over break-ins and safety were brought up. Valley Bible Fellowship, a church about a mile away from the proposed site, said the shelter would hurt nearby residents.
And most council members seemed to be caught off guard by the city manager’s proposal, even though they had authorized the office to bring them a purchase agreement for a homeless shelter site in September, saying at the time they wanted it within 30 days.
“I’m feeling a bit disappointed that we are not moving forward to address the number one issue facing all of Bakersfield,” Councilman Andrae Gonzales said on Thursday. “We know that there’s a demand for additional shelter beds and the city must respond.”
He said his ward is on pace to hold 600 shelter beds in the near future, but more were needed elsewhere in the city to deal with the crisis.
Steps forward, however, may not be very simple. The council directed the City Manager’s Office to return on Jan. 22 with a laundry list of requests, including a cost/benefit analysis of the Calcot site and another in Old Town Kern the city once considered, along with searching the city for another potential location.
Once the council reconvenes in January to make a potential choice, it will likely take five or six months to construct the facility, according to previous projections.
But some council members said the city needed the extra time to make the choice.
“Last night revealed we didn’t have all the information, we didn’t do as exhaustive of a search as we could have done, we certainly didn’t include the public and the community in that process,” said Councilman Willie Rivera, who represents the ward of the proposed site. “We should get that right before we commit ourselves to millions and millions of dollars in investments.”
Rivera was one of the most vocal opponents of the city’s proposal at Wednesday’s meeting. On Thursday he said that he had only received positive feedback following the meeting.
“People who live in southeast Bakersfield felt like they weren’t a part of this conversation, they weren’t included in this conversation, and they wanted to be,” he added. “The action we took last night is an action to make that right, to correct that, moving forward.”
With the council’s decision, there is no timeline for a completion of the city’s shelter. Kern County, which has already received approval from the Board of Supervisors, expects to complete its own homeless shelter near downtown Bakersfield in January.