All over Bakersfield, people have been complaining about the ubiquitous presence of the homeless. It seems that no matter where you are, a homeless person is located in close proximity to you.
To be candid, we all know there is no ideal site. Valley Bible Fellowship does not want it located close to its East Brundage site, but clearly, it would also not want it close to its other two places. In addition, to suggest that multiple smaller sites would be easier to obtain community buy-in is a fantasy. This has become a hot button issue in metropolitan Bakersfield. I have a number of friends who attend VBL and enthusiastically support it. That being said, we are not looking for barriers to addressing this problem; we are looking for solutions. Would Valley Bible Fellowship work to ensure another location receives buy-in from the community? To do so would appear to be hypocritical (NIMBY—not in my backyard — is alive and well, folks).
As the city of Bakersfield has become more proactive in dealing with the homeless population downtown, the homeless have migrated away from the downtown area and to locations that are more residential. An individual in Quailwood reported that a homeless man urinated in his front yard. Ominously, another individual reported with some delight that he had "power washed" a homeless individual off his property. We are losing our humanity by demonstrating such cruel acts.
Sometimes a homeless individual can be menacing. As a short woman of a certain age, it is easy to become intimidated by a psychotic, dirty individual asking for money. Nevertheless, it is my belief that each individual deserves dignity and respect. Ultimately, we need practical resolutions that would help mitigate this difficult situation.
The proposed site on East Brundage is innovative, and as a low barrier site would deal with many of the thorny problems generated by the homeless. Clearly, a variety of county departments and nonprofit agencies have already committed to working together to address some of the more egregious issues. Coupled with the concepts developed jointly by Sheriff Donny Youngblood and District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, the plan appears to be solid. If a homeless person becomes repeatedly problematic, or if he or she refuses treatment multiple times, the option of incarceration is available. In the not too distant past, "flash incarceration" for those who were reticent to change their lives became an incentive to a better future. It was effective at the time, but was later abandoned after changes in the legislation.
Twenty-nine years ago, I had the privilege of attending the Bakersfield City Council meeting when the City Council voted to locate the current site at 1600 E. Truxtun Ave. That, too, was a contentious time. In fact, because there were so many residents both for and against the site, the vote was not cast until 1 a.m. the next morning. Although emotions were running high at that meeting, the City Council courageously voted to identify 1600 E. Truxtun Ave. as the homeless center.
While the current option on East Brundage may not be perfect, it is unlikely that a perfect solution is available. Please allow members of the City Council to do their job once again, so we can move to improve this difficult situation — both for the homeless and for the residents of our community.
Linda Eviston is the executive director of STEPS, Inc.