An article appeared in The Bakersfield Californian this year, listing Taft as one of the 50 worst places to live. I responded with a Community Voices piece ("COMMUNITY VOICES: How Taft landed among the worst cities list," Feb. 21). My piece focused on a number of issues including a lack of accountability from our city government, affordable housing and homelessness.
Apparently it got some attention at city hall. An article appeared in the Taft Midway Driller (TMD), and addressed primarily the accountability issue and being more open with the citizens regarding city issues and how our tax dollar is being spent.
The contaminated dirt at the site for the new Dollar General has been removed and construction has begun. Taft City Manager Craig Jones explained using a consulting firm out of Alabama to recruit new businesses to fill our many vacant buildings without success. However, Starbucks may move from Albertson's to a fast food location nearby primarily seeking fast food businesses and any business with the word "dollar" in it. Jones should be feeling good about coming forward and now showing a willingness to work for the citizens who pay his salary.
Jones did mention the homeless issue and said an ad hoc committee made up of city staff was formed to address this issue and the meetings were open to the public. I have yet to see any announcements of when or where these meetings are being held. However, you can pick up a sign at city hall that reads "NO Alcohol Consumption, Loitering, Panhandling Scavenging." This is just a quick fix.
I have followed this problem while volunteering at St. Andrews Church for the hot meals that are served daily at the church and it has been a real eye opener. These folks do hang out during the day but there are no overnight or shower facilities available. They do wander about the area at night and this is a concern of residents in the area as there are no restrooms available and the two city parks close the restrooms around 6 p.m. to prevent loitering. I have interviewed some of the homeless as I addressed in my second Community Voices piece ("COMMUNITY VOICES: How Taft is helping the homeless," March 24).
We had a major power outage recently in my neighborhood for about 17 hours. It was cold and very windy out but we were warm and cozy using flashlights, oil lamps and candles to see and a radio for entertainment. It's amazing how easy it was to have all our modern conveniences until your power goes out for such a long time. The homeless are always without our modern conveniences including no restroom or shower facilities and only a cold, damp and dark place to try and sleep with the fear of being moved out.
Recently we were leaving home and saw someone lying on the ground behind the church storage building across the street. We found Levi, who had slept there that night. His clothing was torn and dirty, hair was a mess but he was OK. We've seem him around our neighborhood before and given him water but we felt as helpless as to what else we could do for him. Often he would shout out to no one there or wander aimlessly in the middle of the street. I have learned this is a common side effect of drug abuse and mental illness. Levi admitted he had a drug problem. I asked when the last time he had eaten was. He said it's been a few days. He said he was raised in the Fellows area and had family in Taft and that he had gone to Taft High School.
We picked him up a hot lunch, and he was so grateful and polite to us and addressed me as sir. God, help us. What else can we do for Levi and all the other Levi's in Taft. Later I heard shouting and saw Levi shouting at a power pole — the effects of his drug use. A short time later, a deputy came and told him to move on.
A daily hot meal at St. Andrews only keeps food in their bodies. So much more needs to be done in Taft in an effort to bring these folks back home with family and friends. Programs in drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness issues and affordable housing followed by employment opportunities is a good start.
This all takes time, funding and dedicated volunteers to make such a program successful. Kern County has called upon Flood Ministries to help manage about $2 million to establish such programs. Kern County Homeless Collaborative is involved in similar programs and developed a 10-year plan for the county to help resolve the homeless issue, but expect many road blocks.
The good news is Flood Ministries will serve homeless individuals in the Taft area and has hired individuals that have been homeless who possess the experience and knowledge working with the homeless and will have a meeting at The Fort in Taft, according to an email I received from Supervisor Zach Scrivner's office.
Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed $1 billion in spending to combat homelessness and $650 million to local governments to build shelters, rental assistance and convert hotels and motels into temporary housing, according to an article in The Bakersfield Californian.
The city of Taft has not failed with the homeless problem. It can only fail if it has a homeless program currently in place. I can see why Taft was listed in the top 50 worst places to live. Maybe our welcome sign as you enter Taft should include, "Home to the Homeless with No Place to Call Home."
If Bakersfield and Kern County can find funding for their own homeless programs and a group to manage them, I'm sure Taft can "make" the time and establish a program with assistance from the county before it becomes unmanageable.
James McCall retired from Kern County Animal Control after 32 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.