Kern County does currently own a large facility with all the infrastructure needed to safely and efficiently shelter every single homeless person in the county.
That facility is Hart Park, which sits at the eastern border of the city 5.4 miles from Bakersfield College.
The facility is lightly used during the week, but gets busy on weekends and holidays.
I spent Labor Day (one of their busiest days) at Hart Park and observed about 2,000 people using the facility.
Despite this crowd, about 80 percent of the green space in the park remained empty.
Weill Park, which the city offered as a proposed solution, is small at under 2 acres in size.
Hart Park is huge, at over 370 acres in size, and is currently under-utilized for its size. This luxury of space allows the park to easily accommodate multiple uses.
I propose allocating the 2B section of the park, near the south entrance, and sandwiched between a tree and bush filled canal, and the Kern River, which provides visual privacy from the parallel roadway.
I observed the 2B section of the park to be very lightly used on Labor Day. Most of the large green space area along Alfred Harrell Highway was also completely empty.
The 2B section is large enough to accommodate 1000 EZ-UP straight Leg 10’ X 10’ Instant Shelter Cube Tents. These look like tiny houses, but they are heavy duty tents with an all-weather roof.
Google "Modesto Tent City" to see what this would look like.
Modesto currently shelters about 450 homeless, using this approach, and it is one of the most successful and cost-effective homeless solutions developed by a California city.
Private security is on site 24/7 and Turning Point, the third party service provider, manages the facility with a full-time staff of 8 people. Turning Point is also eager to share their model and is willing to help any California city that is interested with lessons learned, etc.
At Hart Park, the private security staff would be backed up first by the armed park rangers, who work 24/7, and second by the Sheriff's Office. Both of these law enforcement agencies currently have satellite offices/facilities onsite and are a daily presence in Hart Park.
I recommend the non-profit Flood Bakersfield Ministries as the third-party service provider for the new city/county shelter. The many homeless folks I have talked to know and trust this agency.
What the homeless tell me is they are seeking safe ground, where they feel secure, with a roof over their head, a place to store their belongings, a place to take care of basic hygiene needs, being able to come and go freely and being able to have a place for their dogs. This solution provides all of that.
The homeless I spoke with were highly enthusiastic about a potential tent city solution, particularly in a location with plenty of shade. They all said they would prefer a tent over an open dormitory bed because a tent provides privacy, a place for their stuff and some personal space that is uniquely their own.
I recommend the GET bus route be extended from Bakersfield College to Hart Park to link folks to needed services and also to improve public access to Hart Park in general.
In conclusion, Hart Park is far enough away from the city that no homes or businesses would be impacted by a large shelter, yet close enough that the various service providers (such as the excellent Kern County Mobile Health Clinics, licensed food trucks donating meals, volunteers, etc.) are easily able to travel to the site.
Ken Mulder is a retired Chevron project manager, and a long time Bakersfield resident.