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Government & Politics

Plans For A Second Homeless Shelter In East Bakersfield Get Mixed Reaction

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Christina Lopez
/
At a public comment meeting, citizens discuss two proposed locations for a homeless shelter. A site in East Bakersfield was chosen.

 

 

Mike Wallford has been living in East Bakersfield for 60 years. He said the city always tries to dump unwanted facilities in this part of town: a sewage treatment plant, a dog pound, he said, and now a homeless shelter.  

 

“They bring out all the trash out there; we’re tired of taking it. Take it out to Rosedale, to Haggin Oaks,” said Wallford. “They don’t want it. I don’t want it either.” 

Rosedale and Haggin Oaks are more affluent communities where there are no homeless shelters. 

Like many other cities in California, Bakersfield is struggling with a large and growing homeless population. To address the issue, the city  just approved plans for a new 70,000 square foot emergency low-barrier homeless shelter. Once this new shelter is built in an empty office complex and warehouse owned by cotton manufacturer Calcot, East Bakersfield will have two homeless shelters. Walford, who made his comments at a public meeting in January, said this part of the city needs better infrastructure, not more shelters. 

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Credit Christina Lopez
The site for the new emergency homeless shelter is on land currently owned by cotton manufacturer Calcot in East Bakersfield.

“You should work with the county. They already got a place to go. That would save money for everybody.  We got enough problems,” said Wallford. 

Walford thinks the city should have just worked with the county to improve an existing shelter downtown. The city says it will improve the neighborhood surrounding the new facility with sidewalks, gutters and street lights.   

The site for the shelter is about a mile from Valley Bible Fellowship, a mega church on East Brundage Lane. Justin Greer, who serves as a youth minister for Valley Bible Fellowship, said he questions the benefit of the $7 million facility. 

  

“I think Bakersfield’s acting too quickly and spending these millions on a facility that we do not know is going to work,” said Greer. 

Greer said he’s concerned the shelter will just create problems for the community he serves. 

“What I think it’s going to do is horde more homeless people and for the community I’m in. I believe that’s going to bring more violence; it’s going to bring more theft. It’s going to bring a lot of things,” said Greer. 

“Nobody, absolutely nobody wants homeless people close to them,” said Louis Gill, CEO of the Bakersfield Homeless Center, which is also located in East Bakersfield. People are afraid of living near a homeless shelter, he said.

 

The homeless center allows walk-ups, Gill said, but the new shelter will be referral only. “You don’t have individuals with all their possessions traveling blocks and blocks trying to get there,” said Gill. “Instead you can give them a ride in a van, bring their things, and then you can limit some of the, we’ll call it ‘discomfort’ that the neighbors would express.” 

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Credit Christina Lopez
Louis Gill runs the Bakersfield Homeless Center, which is also located in East Bakersfield. The thermos on his desk reads "God loves the people you hate."

The new shelter will include dorms, pet kennels, office space for service providers and a 15,000 square foot Bakersfield Police Department substation 

One of Gill’s main concerns is the limited number of beds.  

“It is a very large facility and I would struggle with believing that the city council members would feel comfortable with the size of the investment necessary for just 150 beds,” said Gill. 

The city said it will open the shelter with 150 beds and may reevaluate the need for more beds in the future.

As he drove by several homeless encampments that are close to the center he runs, Gil said more beds are necessary. 

“What you can see on the right of way from the railroad tracks are many, many encampments,” said Gill. “Individuals, of course, using the trees and other natural terrain that’s been planted along that right of way.”

The side of the railroad tracks is peppered with blue colored tarps and various tents. 

 

“You’ll find single adults, you’ll find couples from senior citizens to young individuals that have just come out of foster care to those who have had their first real mental health issue that their family just couldn’t deal with,” said Gill. 

It’s impossible, Gill said, for people to have good hygiene in places like the encampments.

“There just aren’t bathrooms and a body does what a body does and then what do you do when that builds up?” asked Gill. “Then there’s just refuse from food. And so that attracts rodents, rats and you have other problems that come with that.”

The Bakersfield Homeless Center has 174 beds but on most nights, at least 200 people show up. One of the center’s residents, Mark Wilkins, said he’s relieved to have a place to stay. 

“They’ve got shirts, there’s underwear, they got tennis shoes, they’ve got -- man, they’ve got bedding,” said Wilkins.

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Credit Christina Lopez
Mark Wilkins sifts through donations at the Bakersfield Homeless Center.

Wilkins is a 59-year-old Army veteran. He used to wash windows for a living but the work dried up.  

“People just started wanting to do their own windows and then two weeks later, they say they don’t have the money and then two weeks later they’re buying brand new cars,” said Wilkins. “They’d rather have a car then have their business windows cleaned.”

Before he got a bed at the homeless center, he lived on the streets downtown. For nearly a month, he slept on a short metal bench. 

 

“It was a little short on me so I had to have my feet bent the whole night but I managed. I had a blanket. I didn’t really have a pillow so I used my backpack,” said Wilkins.   

Now Wilkins has a place to stay until he finds a permanent home.  The city said it plans to open the new shelter in the fall of 2020. 

 

 

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