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In this file photo, Bakersfield police officers Fabian Barrales and Tyler Beeson offer water and information on programs designed to help the homeless in Southwest Bakersfield.

In an effort to cut down on the amount of homeless individuals living on the streets of Bakersfield, the Kern County Board of Supervisors agreed to move forward with a plan that could result in a new homeless shelter in the city by the end of the year.

During their Tuesday meeting, supervisors unanimously agreed to allow the county to develop a plan to pay for and construct a “low barrier” shelter at a county-owned site several blocks from downtown Bakersfield, just north of Golden State Avenue.

While the facility will need to receive final approval before it is built, the supervisors’ vote on Tuesday indicated support for the project that has faced resistance by business owners who own property nearby.

The city of Bakersfield had looked into building a similar shelter at Weill Park, a block away from the county’s proposed site. However, after property owners voiced opposition to the location, the city pulled back, deciding to look for other options as it searches for a place to house its own homeless shelter.

“We are at capacity. All of the service providers, and everything that they are doing, are at capacity," said County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop, noting that the existing homeless shelters in Bakersfield are usually filled to the maximum. “It needs a commensurate response from all of us. We need to evolve.”

The county selected an underused industrial site for the location of the proposed shelter, which could house around 150 people.

Sandwiched between railroad tracks, Golden State Avenue, a recycling center and a few scrappy-looking businesses, county officials say the site is one of the best locations for a homeless shelter that can be set up quickly and cheaply.

A low barrier shelter is meant to serve individuals who cannot otherwise gain admittance to other homeless centers either because they have a partner, pets or property that they would have to give up.

The county hopes to draw individuals to the shelter and “wrap services around them” to get them the help they need to get off the streets.

But some fear the site will be a draw for more homeless people, discouraging businesses from expanding into the area.

“If you plop this in our little community, you’re going to devastate us. You’re just going to devastate us,” said local businessman Kyle Carter, who owns the nearby Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame. “I’m a taxpayer, and I would hate to see our county get stuck with something that you just can’t get rid of.”

On the other side of the issue, Executive Director of Flood Ministries Jim Wheeler reminded the supervisors that any place they build a shelter, some people are bound to be upset.

“I promise you that no matter where you try to place a site, there’s going to be opposition,” he said.

And the need for beds may be only one part of the equation.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood and District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said many homeless individuals are drug addicts with no interest in getting help.

They said they hoped to begin jailing drug offenders who typically get released with nothing more than a ticket after being arrested, in response to the rise in misdemeanor crime.

Their efforts, they said, could work in tandem with the proposed shelter.

The new shelter is expected co-cost between $1 million and $2 million to build, with operation costs running between $1 million and $1.5 million.

The county hopes to secure grants to partially pay for the facility in addition to partnering with the city. It expects the facility to be needed for two to five years.

While the shelter may not solve the county’s homelessness crisis, many at the county hope it will be an important step forward.

“When I look at this issue, I think it’s like we’re about to eat an elephant,” said Supervisor Mike Maggard. “We are next to this big huge thing and we can’t imagine how we are going to conceive of eating a whole elephant. But what’s the old saying? You eat an elephant by taking one bite at a time. This is one bite.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

(9) comments

She Dee

Kyle Carter, you are aware that homeless people are taxpayers too, are you not? Every time they make a purchase in a local store, they pay sales tax on those items. I just happen to be one of the millions who receive SSDI for a physical injury & my disposable monthly income after rent is apx $250-$300.00 a month. Think of the other people who use their benefits from the government to pay into the local tax system & I think you can find a way to see the numbers that are helping to keep businesses alive. Maybe you should not judge those who you might one day hope to entice into your business, because there's a good they will someday get approved to government assistance & they will remember you for being somewhat of a jerk.

Nevermind

I polled the homeless AND the put upon citizens.......they both want the shelter.....but they want it in Santa Barbara.

palooloo

I think the location doesn't matter much. Like the person from flood ministries said, people will complain wherever it's placed so just focus on the important matter and thats establishing it asap for the crisis at hand. In actuality, the only ones who should get a right to complain should be the ones who actively participate in helping this crisis by actively giving to them, following and taking actions to help, etc. Not the ones who just complain online or worry about their own businesses. We are a community. Not a greedy city for business.

ISpy

"They said they hope to begin jailing drug offenders...in tandem with the proposed shelter." Red flag. Sounds like an easy round-up for cops and social service workers (District 9?) Guess all the data indicating that the criminalization of drug abuse doesn't fix anything is worthless, too.

NALISON

The new shelter is expected co-cost between $1 million and $2 million to build???, Come on... who the heck is their contractor? And operation costs running between $1 million and $1.5 million. ?? Really?... What does the other shelter spend annually?, probably no where near that....

yorkies2014

I count my blessings everyday.......just one wrong turn and life can be such a struggle........helping folks in need is a good thing..a very good thing

GetReal2

Putting people with mental illness who self medicate and can’t get a job in jail addresses homelessness, I guess. Maybe place the low barrier entry facility next to Lerdo, to help sorting out homeless who do want to work from those who don’t.

JR

This problem is like that old adage of closing the barn door after the horse escapes. Most the homeless have been suffering from their addictions and mental problems for up to decades, so how can that be turned around with a bed and a hot meal? They needed health care and treatment many many years ago but because of low-cost or free health clinics being defunded over 35 years ago, this is the outcome. Maybe a health clinic and rehab center connected to this shelter would be a good idea. And because the homeless is not just a local problem but a statewide issue, perhaps additional funding can be requested for this purpose from the state.

Copper

Absolutely need a rehabs and mental health centers built . Hallway houses and board and cares built. Also 5150 has to be more loosely applied to people in need can be picked up and placed into treatment. We shouldn’t have to see the same clearly schizophrenic individuals walking around filthy and suffering day after day and do nothing.

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