Plans for a low-barrier homeless shelter in Bakersfield have slowed after community members voiced their opposition to a proposal that Weill Park host the project.
Bakersfield city officials will work in the coming weeks to identify other locations that could house the facility before bringing a slate of options before the City Council.
No timeline has been set for completing the selection process, which had been on the brink of appearing before the council prior to concerns being raised.
The facility will eventually provide a place for 100 to 200 homeless people to sleep each night. The city hopes a new shelter will reduce the number of homeless encampments strewn throughout Bakersfield as well as bring down the number of people sleeping around businesses on a nightly basis.
“We’re at a pretty critical situation at this point, and we need to both build and operate a low barrier shelter as quickly as possible,” said City Councilman Andrae Gonzales. “There were obviously some concerned business owners and property owners regarding this location. I think part of it is related to the fact that people really don’t know exactly what this low-barrier shelter entails.”
In June, the Bakersfield Planning Commission approved a zone change that would have allowed the shelter at Weill Park, but city staff delayed bringing the recommendation before the City Council to give the city more time to come up with alternative choices.
“Personally I think it’s really important that the City Council be well informed of what options there are, and that the community have a voice,” said Assistant City Manager Jacqui Kitchen. “It’s something that we have to do right. We can’t jump into this without having a firm understanding of, one: what the homeless population of Bakersfield needs. Two: who our partners will be in operating something like this. And three: What are the options for locating this in the community?”
The City Council recently approved $4 million to add an emergency shelter for the homeless in fiscal year 2019-20.
Both existing Bakersfield homeless shelters are frequently “full” on a nightly basis, with plans in place to add 40 beds to each of the facilities.
A point-in-time count of Kern County’s homeless population completed in January located 643 “unsheltered” homeless individuals in metro Bakersfield, indicating a large need for more beds, and fast.
The low-barrier shelter would serve the homeless community that cannot otherwise access the existing shelters.
It could be a series of tent-like structures or a large building. Other services could be located at the facility like medical care, job training or housing placement.
Designs for the site have not been completed yet.
City officials have visited the sites of low-barrier shelters in other cities for ideas, and plan to make a presentation before the City Council soon.
Although Weill Park, which is located at the intersection of Q Street and Golden State Highway, has not been ruled out as a location for the shelter, the city is also looking at commercial real estate listings for more options as well as other city-owned areas.
“It really needs to be a community discussion with guidance from the Council,” Kitchen said. “We’re really interested in hearing community feedback and ideas. Are we on the right track? Should we be looking at something else?”