© 2024 KVPR | Valley Public Radio - White Ash Broadcasting, Inc. :: 89.3 Fresno / 89.1 Bakersfield
89.3 Fresno | 89.1 Bakersfield
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

$5M Bezos grant targets Kern County’s unhoused, low-income residents. ‘They’re facing a crisis’

Volunteers pack boxes at the Community Action Partnership of Kern Food Bank.
Community Action Partnership of Kern
Volunteers pack boxes at the Community Action Partnership of Kern Food Bank.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – A new, $5 million grant will help Kern County’s leading anti-poverty organization assist families in need and the unhoused.

The Community Action Partnership of Kern, or CAPK, announced it received the “needle-moving” grant on Tuesday under a charity fund operated by Amazon-founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos. The money will help build and run a 31-unit affordable housing community in metro Bakersfield, says CEO Jeremy Tobias.

“It’s a large and significant investment in the entire community, and we’re proud that CAPK is the conduit for this investment,” he said. “We have a lot of working poor that just cannot find adequate housing and adequate shelter at their income level. They’re facing a crisis, and we try to serve those individuals.”

Homes will be available for unhoused people earning less than 40% of the region’s median income, about $22,000 per household. Kern County and its housing authority are partners on the project.

Case managers will work closely with residents to provide services such as mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and job training programs. Those efforts are meant to address “the root causes of homelessness through a comprehensive approach,” Tobias says.

“This partnership exemplifies our mission to empower individuals and transform lives,” he adds.

There are about 1,750 unhoused residents in Kern County, according to an annual report prepared by the Kern County Homeless Collaborative. Of those, less than half were staying in a shelter.

The “Bezos Day 1 Family Fund” aims to address homelessness among families and youth. CAPK is one of 38 recipients of funds nationwide this year. Altogether, more than $115 million in funding was distributed.

Since its inception in 2018, organizers say the initiative has helped nearly 30,000 families find permanent housing.

Grantees are selected by a panel of experts from across the country. The fund prioritizes projects that focus on “compassionate, needle-moving work to help families move from unsheltered homelessness and shelters to permanent housing with the services they require to achieve stability,” according to its website.

CAPK serves nearly 100,000 people annually as the county’s official anti-poverty organization, providing meals and financial assistance to families in need. The nonprofit recently unveiled a new food bank that tripled in size to address growing food insecurity rates in the county.

One in 10 families in the county struggle to put food on the table, according to a recent needs assessment completed by the organization. The problem is worse in rural areas, Tobias says, where food deserts – known as areas without easy access to fresh produce – are common.

“We have world-class agricultural production in the Valley, yet we also face one of the highest food security rates in the nation,” he says.

Those who wish to contribute to the organization during the holiday season can donate or sign up to volunteer online at www.capk.org.

Joshua Yeager is a Report For America corps reporter covering Kern County for KVPR.