Council: No support for homeless 'camp'
County plans housing at Highway 43 facility
September 26, 2019
The Kern County Housing Authority has plans to use the Shafter Farm Labor Camp as temporary housing for the homeless, and on first evaluation, the locals aren't happy about it.
At its meeting on Tuesday, City Manager Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez told that council that he learned from the City of Shafter the previous Thursday that the authority wants to utilize the camp off Highway 43 as housing for unaccompanied homeless women.
The site is in an unincorporated area about four miles south of Wasco, and north of Shafter.
According to Ortiz-Hernandez, the city had not been aware of the housing authority's plans until then and because of the late notification, the item was placed on the agenda at the last minute.
According to the Housing Authority, the site is nearly empty during the winter months, so the facility would be utilized as a homeless facility from November through March.
The director of the authority, Steve Pelz, explained by telephone Wednesday morning: "This would not be like a shelter for the homeless. The residents would be by invitation only and the women will be assisted in finding jobs and finding housing in the area from where they originally came."
It was clear from the comments made by both councilmembers and the public that there was little or no support for the plan from locals.
Ortiz-Hernandez told the councilmembers he was opposed to the idea because he had not been directly informed of. He told the councilmembers that to put a homeless shelter in this part of the county didn't make sense because during the state's 'homeless count' recently completed, there were only 15 homeless people documented in the Wasco and Shafter area.
"A decision should be made this week by the county," Ortiz-Hernandez said. "We need more information before we proceed on this."
"The city was a bit blindsided," Mayor Alex Garcia said.
Resident Paul Hussy said that he has been a Wasco resident for 66 years and had several questions to ask the county. "Will this just be single women? Who is going to enforce this?," he said. "Don't let people 'rest' on what they say because once they get their foot in the door, what then?"
Hussy also questioned who would pay for this idea.
Resident David Ward said that he opposed this idea of moving the homeless out of Bakersfield to Wasco. "We only have 15 homeless," he noted, referring to the last count.
Ward urged the city council to take legal action. "If we don't do something legally, get an injunction to stop them, they will do what they want."
Ward also stated that accepting this idea would change the area, and it would be hard to enforce that only unattached women would reside there.
"Crime will go up and property values would go down," Ward added.
Seven-year resident Harold Gibson asked if Los Angeles would be bringing up more people to Wasco. He has a major issue with this idea.
"The homeless are drug addicts," Councilmember Gilberto Reyna said. "When I rode with an officer, he had the homeless empty their pockets and they found drugs. This will affect us deeply. I think we should take legal action ... and move in that direction."
Mayor Pro Temp Tilo Cortez added, "Shafter and Wasco are on the same page. This will affect both communities."
Cortez added that the city needs to spend some money and get legal action started.
"Los Angeles is sending their homeless to Kern County," Councilmember Danny Espitia said. "They are given a voucher, put on Amtrak and sent to Kern County."
Espitia also felt this would have an impact on police services and medical services, "I don't like what they are trying to shove down our throats."
Councilmember John Pallares stated that his first concern was with the children involved.
The councilmembers unanimously agreed to direct the city manager to write a letter to the county advising them of the city's position on the idea and move forward with legal options that are available. The council agreed that just a letter wouldn't have any effect on the outcome, that legal action needs to occur.
Garcia stated that he didn't understand the intent behind the idea of a housing plan. "We have a supervisor who should look out for us, and that is not happening." The area is represented by Supervisor David Couch.
In other council business, Sergeant Peter Martinez shared a video on home surveillance systems that the department wants residents to register with the sheriff's office for, because "video surveillance is helpful in catching criminals," Martinez said.
He stated that the officers have been able to solve several crimes due to video surveillance equipment at crime scenes. Registration information was passed out to each audience member. Anyone wishing to register their video surveillance equipment with the Wasco substation may do so by calling 758-758-7266 and asking for Sergeant Martinez.
Martinez added that there will be a "Coffee with a Cop" Wednesday morning at Starbucks from 9-10 a.m.
[BEGIN ITAL]Shafter Press editor Jamie Stewart contributed to this story.