Serving the community since 1970

Couch's Corner

Finding solutions to homelessness

I recently learned of the Housing Authority of Kern’s concept of using farm labor camps they own in Shafter and Lamont to house about 50 homeless women from Kern County temporarily this winter. [Editor’s note: The county has since eliminated the Shafter camp from the plan for this year.] Having no more details than that, I let a member of the Shafter community know. Within days, our District 4 office phones were lighting up. Many people were upset and opposed to “the plan.” Not knowing any details ourselves, we contacted HAKC. We learned a management plan was being developed but not completed yet.

So where do I stand on this? At this point, not having the specifics of the plan, I simply don’t know enough to be in favor of the plan or oppose the plan. As details come out, I invite the public to comment, criticize or suggest changes. I’m confident HAKC will listen and consider all reasonable comments. They are, and want to be, a good neighbor.

Some of the details that are known so far: The plan is for about 50 homeless women from Kern County to be housed in this “bridge” housing. The labor camps sit empty November through April, as they are used for migrant farm labor.

The facilities are fully contained and self-sufficient housing units that have food, laundry, bathroom facilities and open spaces, that will negate the need for those placed in these units to be walking into town. Furthermore, services such as mental health, counseling, human services and health care will be available on site. Finally, transportation services to Bakersfield will be provided so that doctor appointments and other off-site services will not result in local foot traffic.

Keep in mind that these homeless women are in the process of finding permanent housing and this housing is considered “bridge” housing because they are relatively close to finding that housing and will be gone by March 31 to make room for the migrant farmworkers who come in seasonally. Finally, local hiring, purchasing and cleanup incentives are being considered to help make these plans more acceptable to the local community.

When the plan is ready and available, I encourage all interested parties to read it and provide their comments in support or in opposition. I also encourage everyone to come forward with your constructive ideas and recommendations regarding the issue of homelessness. For this to be a success, it is fully understood that the cooperation of the local communities is paramount.

All of us are aware of the explosion of the homeless problem in our State. Even in our smaller communities, we see more homeless than before, and we are all conflicted by this – by the sadness we feel at this human suffering happening before our eyes and by the fear that compels us to shout out “not in my backard.” The Delano community is working to get ahead of their fear – to see their problem as their own and to solve it themselves. It’s already in their backyard, and they are taking steps to address it.

We started meeting as the Delano Homeless Collaborative last year, and brought in stakeholders and interested citizens, including people from my office. We identified some steps needed: We participated in the Point-in-Time Count and found 45 homeless in the community and speculate there are about 25 more that weren’t counted.

We brought in some county departments and were able to get the Kern County Behavioral Health Department to establish a recovery station that will help the Delano Police Department to take the disorderly due to drugs, alcohol or a mental health crisis and put them in a detox facility for the night, where they can get peer counseling and treatment rather than a night in jail. We worked with Flood Ministries to utilize available funding for a motel voucher program and we’ve put Delano folks in need of a few nights into hotels instead of on the streets. We most recently identified a location for a day facility so that those homeless from Delano can have a place to go to shower, eat and relax off the street and away from the weather.

I tell the Delano story now, even though the labor camps are near Lamont, Arvin, Shafter and Wasco, because Delano learned that getting ahead of their homeless problem removed the fear. My office will be glad to lead any initiative in the District 4 communities to discuss, understand and deal with the problem of homelessness in your communities. The problem’s already in our backyard. Let’s work together to solve it.

We’ve come full circle, sort of. Lamont’s Sunset Labor Camp was the camp the Joads made it to, when they were coming to California, homeless, as told in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” It just seems fitting that almost 90 years later we’re going to consider our labor camps to find a temporary home for those in our community that most have a need.

The calls came in to our District 4 office complaining about the plans HAKC was trying to make. Truth be told, the HAKC does not answer directly to the Board of Supervisors and are an autonomous agency whose funding comes from the state and feds. They don’t work for me. But don’t misunderstand. I’m thankful that HACK is trying to be part of the solution and I look forward to seeing their plan.

Got any questions? Contact our office at 661-868-3680 or at [email protected].

David Couch is the county supervisor representing the Shafter-Wasco area.


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