There’s a tremendous need in Bakersfield for affordable housing for homeless veterans.
Last week, the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a conditional use permit — a critical step toward the construction of Covey Cottages, 12 so-called "tiny homes" to be built on a vacant patch of land on Covey Avenue in old Oildale, just south of Beardsley Canal.
"What makes this different is it is permanent housing. It is not transitional housing," said Deborah Johnson, president and CEO of the California Veterans Assistance Foundation, the nonprofit that is shepherding the project.
It's also different because the cost of designing and building the project is being borne primarily by a team of local businesses and individuals, including Rios Design Studio handling the landscape architecture and design, McIntosh & Associates, a civil engineering, surveying, and environmental planning firm, and John Balfanz Homes, a longtime area homebuilder.
And that's only a start, Johnson said. The Patel Foundation, Rotary Clubs of Kern County and others who want to remain anonymous are also on board to help.
The project will include paved areas and green space, a commons room with covered outdoor eating area, laundry facilities and parking. Each home will be just 400 square feet, but includes a bathroom, kitchenette, bedroom and living area.
The idea for the project originated with Tim Terrio of Terrio Physical Therapy and Fitness, Johnson said, and though the Veterans Assistance Foundation has taken the reins, Terrio remains involved.
Terrio has long spoken about how important it is for Americans to make sure those who have served our nation in uniform are not living on the streets.
According to Johnson, the foundation has the names of 83 homeless veterans. But those numbers can change.
"In Bakersfield, our homeless population is really migrant," she said. "They're moving all over."
And while having a pet can be a roadblock to finding shelter for the homeless, Johnson said pets will "absolutely" be allowed at Covey Cottages.
"We've modified our transitional housing program to allow veterans with pets to come in," she said. "They're not going to surrender their animals, and people should understand that."
Indeed, Tommy Johnson, a 70-year-old U.S. Army veteran living and sleeping outdoors in Bakersfield's northwest, said surrendering his dog, Miracle, is not even a possibility.
"I sleep where I can," he said, revealing one favored location but asking that the details not be published.
"If I'm lucky enough to get a room, that's nice. A few friends out here will let you take a shower. That feels good."
But giving up Miracle is out of the question.
"She kind of helps me," he said. "We help each other.
"It's hard out here."
He served his country yesterday. He's homeless today. The notion that he could be living under a secure roof tomorrow seems remote.
You might even say it would be a miracle.