Many homeless women in Bakersfield are on the brink of finding permanent housing, but sometimes there are still a few hurdles to jump before calling a place home.
For at least 51 women, they will have temporary housing and several other services provided to them starting Monday through March 30 just outside of Lamont.
The historic Sunset Camp — a housing complex for migrant workers — will be getting its first wave of residents Monday. Four homeless women will be arriving, with an additional 10 on Tuesday and more in the coming days and weeks, said Heather Kimmel, assistant executive director of the Housing Authority of the County of Kern.
There will also be three women with children under the age of 5 residing in one unit.
Back in October, the Housing Authority discussed plans to use the Sunset Camp during the winter months to house homeless women. The units are normally vacant from November through March.
All of the women were invited to Sunset Camp by referral from partner agencies and have been matched with or offered some sort of permanent housing option. They have a case manager they work with and are on the path to housing, but need additional support before then.
"Just finding a landlord that will rent to them, it’s extremely hard to do if you’re homeless, and it’s challenging if you’re in an emergency shelter," Kimmel said. "That is what bridge housing is — it’s a bridge for them to stay in while they go through the search housing process. They can shower, be clean, eat and present themselves to landlords in the best way."
The camp is situated just outside Lamont, about 2 miles south on Sunset Boulevard, next to some apartments, Sunset Middle School and a preschool.
Three women will share a three bedroom, one bathroom unit during their time at Sunset Camp. The units come fully furnished with a dinette, dressers, stove, fridge and other intricate items that make a place a home.
Food will be provided through a partnership with the Kern Food Bank, and cooking classes will be available to residents. For some women, it's been quite some time since they've had to cook for themselves, so cooking classes were deemed a necessity, Kimmel explained.
An on-site manager will make sure food is being ordered every week, quarters will be provided so the residents can do their laundry and a full-time driver can take them to Bakersfield when needed. Policies are also in place to make sure they are being good neighbors and roommates.
Additionally, other resources and classes will be available to help make the adjustment into housing easier, such as mental health and medical services, social training and religious services. Kimmel said the Housing Authority is working to make sure the activities calendar is full.
"It really is going to be a nice transition from homelessness back into their own housing," she said. "I'm hoping they can form a bond so they can support each other when they leave. We’ve had people who have gone through similar experiences and it can be impactful."
By March 30, the goal is to have all the women in their own apartments or other permanent housing options. However, if they find themselves without a solution, an emergency homeless bed will be available for them at the Bakersfield Homeless Center.
"If you were alone and had a baby and wanted to be off the street ... I think it’s a good thing," said Sharon Garrison, who was born in 1946 in the camp and is a caretaker for the historic part of the grounds.
With 51 women in this temporary facility, the Housing Authority is hoping freed up shelter beds will allow for more homeless people to have a warm place to sleep this winter.
Kimmel also believes all the services available to those residing in Sunset Camp will give them a boost once they are on their own.
"We're excited for them," she said. "It'll be a little bit of an adjustment but in a positive way."