A jobs program that employs homeless individuals received a boost by the Kern County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
In an effort to “kill two birds with one stone,” supervisors drafted a contract that tasks homeless individuals with cleaning litter along state highways in unincorporated Kern County areas.
The contract is an expansion of the Bakersfield Homeless Center Job Development Program, which provides cleanup services to the city of Bakersfield and businesses in the area. The program aims to provide homeless individuals with job experience so they can become self-sufficient.
Caltrans itself will provide $25,000 for the program for the remainder of the fiscal year, while the Kern Council of Governments will provide $50,000.
Supervisor David Couch has been pushing for the contract for nearly a year, after seeing the success of the program in Bakersfield.
“It’s a win-win situation when we use state funds to put Kern County’s homeless population to work,” Couch said in a statement. “With the wages that come from this program, these workers from the Bakersfield Homeless Center that are able to work can begin to support themselves and their families again, and at the same time their work makes our community look so much better. It’s all part of the many-layered approach we must take as a community to solve the problem of homelessness.”
The Job Development Program has expanded since it started in 2009. Hundreds of homeless individuals have participated since its inception, with the program finding housing for participants, their spouses and their children.
“It’s smart government,” Couch's district director, Sal Moretti, said. “To take a dollar of government money and use it to put a homeless person to work, and then that person gets housing, it extends out the taxpayer dollar.”
While Bakersfield has been the beneficiary of the Job Development Program for many years, work crews will begin to service county areas in the next week and a half, if all goes according to plan.
Moretti said a crew of five workers will work five days a week, initially focusing on state roads near Bakersfield before moving outward.
The program will continue on an annual basis, after the end of the fiscal year in June. Next fiscal year, the program is expected to receive $125,000 for operations.
Previously, Caltrans workers and crews from local jails maintained the areas around the highways on a limited basis. Moretti said the new contract would allow Kern County highways to be serviced on a more regular basis.