Addressing homelessness must be approached as a community issue, while endorsing the safety of our children living in the community of any new shelter facility. Placing a homeless shelter in southeast Bakersfield has the potential to expose an already struggling neighborhood to additional stresses. This includes impacting neighborhood children.
A child’s learning and development is strongly influenced by their environment. The activity within the neighborhoods where children live, play and go to school matter to the health and well-being of kids.
The social, economic, cultural and built characteristics of children's neighborhoods are integral to their development.
Living without the stability of a home and residual income has serious impacts on the health and well-being of individuals subjected to this reality. However, what is not often discussed are the moral implications of society’s acceptance of ill-proposed solutions to homelessness, as well as the effects of homelessness on social cohesion, inclusion and harmony. Features of neighborhood social organization do matter and are selectively important to childhood development. Unfortunately, the condition of living in homelessness increases the risk of criminal activity, mental illness and substance dependency. Individuals suffering from the effects of dangerous living arrangements and unstable housing are at a greater risk of mental and physical health problems than the general population. They experience social problems exacerbated by their situation and are more likely to become involved in criminal activity than the general public.
Almost two-thirds of transient individuals struggle with a substance abuse problem, nearly 20 percent of the homeless population in Bakersfield are registered sex offenders and an estimated 25 percent have some type of mental illness. Placing a homeless shelter in southeast Bakersfield would potentially increase risk exposure detrimental to neighborhood children's development. A risk that is proven to be associated with negative behavioral and academic outcomes.
In considering a location for this shelter, it is important to realize how these risk factors are strong predictors of later outcomes- including academic performance, cognitive development, and social and emotional well-being. Understanding this evidence, and designing neighborhoods and infrastructures around it, could solve long-standing, seemingly intractable social and learning problems.
As parents, leaders and collaborative protectors of the children living in southeast Bakersfield, it is our responsibility to discuss how toxic environments predict lower social mobility for those impacted by these decisions. To sincerely begin to address the status of homelessness and understand the individuals affected, we must address the root of the problem, not mindlessly perpetuate it, and keep the children at the top of this discussion. Without proper research in place, I am confident that if Bakersfield places this facility in southeast Bakersfield it will do great harm to the children living in this neighborhood.
Tiara King is a Bakersfield resident and an expert in the field of sexual violence and sexually offensive behavior. She is the vice president and co-owner of Retrain The Night.