While the new Kern County ordinance imposing fines on homeless residents who live in unapproved public spaces is intended to be part of a more robust plan to address homelessness, it may backfire. And while punishment may succeed in enforcing immediate change, it will not likely result in sustained improvement. Neither will pairing law enforcement with outreach workers. Establishing trust and credibility among those who are homeless is key to successful interventions, and this approach will undermine that process from the start.
And while establishing a designated campsite at the Brundage Lane Navigation Center is a first step, beware of safety issues if you compress a large number of people into a confined space. Better to establish multiple approved campsites around the city with adequate sanitation and designated outreach workers.
All this makes sense only if the county follows through with its plan to build and/or acquire more affordable housing. Other cities can provide the blueprint for successful projects.
We have an opportunity and a responsibility to spend the $8.4 million in federal grants wisely. Shall we use it to populate dedicated jail cells for those who are homeless violators of the camping ordinance? And will the planned wrap-around services fill in the gaps in our fragmented homeless services delivery system, or become a straitjacket to further suppress those who suffer in public?
— Joan Behrick, Bakersfield