Garden Pathways announced an effort Monday to take a deep look at homelessness at least, in one specific part of Bakersfield.
The local nonprofit headed by Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh is beginning a pilot program with the intention of studying the reasons behind homelessness, and why some parts of the city seem to attract homeless people.
“Homelessness is a growing, tragic reality that impacts our community’s most vulnerable as well as our entire community,” Goh said at a press conference to announce the pilot. “We need everyone to come alongside to address the very complex, underlying drivers of homelessness.”
Garden Pathways has found a willing partner in Dignity Health, which will provide $100,000 for what the organizations call the Homeless Outreach and Intervention Pilot.
The two organizations hope to create a replicable model that can be used throughout the city.
Homelessness has become a hot-button issue in Bakersfield. In the last year, homelessness increased by 9 percent compared to the year before, according to an annual point-in-time count conducted by the Kern County Homeless Collaborative.
The increase comes at the tail end of a nearly decades-long decline in homeless numbers in Kern County.
Since 2008, homelessness has decreased by 40 percent.
But despite the long term decrease, many city and county residents feel as if something must be done.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors recently held a special meeting to showcase the county’s efforts to curb homelessness, in which they received many comments on the rise in homelessness.
From addiction to mental health struggles to bad luck, a person ends up as homeless for a variety of reasons.
To try to delve into the issue, Garden Pathways will dispatch a group of five employees for 15 hours a week over a year to get to know the homeless in the area and learn what those people need to get off the streets. The selected area is surrounded by Chester Avenue, Golden State Highway and Union Avenue, known as the 34th Street neighborhood.
The five-member team will be selected from among the employees of Garden Pathways. The team will contain a mix of skill sets, with some former clients of Garden Pathways bringing lived experience, while others will bring a social work background.
“We are excited to have this opportunity to pilot a unique approach to homeless outreach and intervention by focusing on a specific target area to identify determinants, needs, and barriers, then help us develop interventions that can help mitigate the risk to homelessness,” said Juan Avila, Garden Pathways chief operating officer.
The program will expand on the success of 34th Street Neighborhood Transformation Project, a gang reduction project brought to Bakersfield by Dignity Health and Garden Pathways.
If the new program turns out to be successful, Dignity hopes to continue the partnership, and even expand the scope beyond the 34th Street neighborhood.
Garden Pathways could learn valuable insights into how homelessness arrives in some neighborhoods. It could also learn valuable tools in how to get those who end up as homeless to the right services.
The announcement of the new pilot inspired one Bakersfield resident to step up and volunteer for it.
Neighborhood resident Derrick Dodd, 58, said he had delivered sandwiches and water bottles to homeless people in the area for a while, but he hoped to increase his involvement through the outreach program.
He said that he wanted to be a familiar face to the local homeless population, and become somebody that population trusted to point them to the proper services.
“I’m feeling like I can make a difference,” he said. “I challenge some people like me to come forward.”