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Couch's Corner: Working to end homelessness

This week our District 4 staff had the pleasure to visit three facilities in Kern County that are trying to address our local homelessness problem.

Homelessness is on everyone’s mind these days as the problem seems so intractable but the good news is that work is being done to correct this. The three facilities we visited were the M St. Navigation Center, the Brundage Lane Navigation Center, and the Recycling Lives facility. All of these are relatively new and are part of the community strategy to combat homelessness and get people back on their own two feet. The beauty of these programs is how focused they are in providing humane and smart solutions to homelessness. For those of us who want to see solutions that solve the problem for businesses and the community while also recognizing the humanity of those afflicted, you should know that solutions with that focus are on the forefront and are having success.

This week, I wanted to focus on the County’s M St. Navigation Center. Community Action Partnership Kern (CAPK) Program Manager Laurie Hughey showed us their facility complete with sleeping areas, beds, cafeteria and meeting rooms. Some 128 beds out of 150 are being utilized there – beds that only two years ago weren’t available to get people off the street.

Since the opening in May, 2020, M Street has served over 1300 individuals experiencing homelessness and placed 134 into permanent housing. Several programs are in place at M Street to help those staying there get off the street permanently. Programs such as Project Hire Up which teaches basic office and life skills in addition to welding compete with certification. Others have been referred to Jobs Programs at the Bakersfield Homeless Center and at Recycling Lives. Many take advantage of financial literacy courses and courses designed to help the M St. clients break free of poverty, understand their potential behavioral health issues, and get help with substance abuse issues. Medical and prayer services are also available to help with the healing process.

Hot meals are donated, clients get three meals a day, and the clients are even able to bring in their pets for safe kenneling while they are there. There’s even a café where clients can get their afternoon coffee. 42 volunteers help staff the site. As you can see, there’s a lot happening here to help these people take the first steps toward normalcy.

The most significant new developments center around the new Safe Camping and Safe Parking initiatives. These are unique to the M St. facility, and show how the Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative is taking an approach that develops specialized solutions to homelessness. Not everyone who is homeless is ready for sheltering. They often have concerns associated with their vehicles or they are not ready to be inside a facility with rules, or they’re open to some help but don’t want to be confined. The Safe Parking and Safe Camping adds another element to getting people off the street and out of the river bed. It gives another option for those on the street but it gives them the space to figure out their next steps. An old adage is it takes 17 contacts to get homeless people to build trust with caregivers. Safe Parking and Camping makes it easier to build trust, get them off the streets, and slowly connect them to services that can ultimately lead them into permanent housing. At the Safe Camping and Parking facility, meals can be provided, restrooms and other services will be available, and most importantly, security is available. According to Laurie Hughey, Program Manager for M St., “CAPK and the M St. Navigation Team are looking forward to providing these additional services, so that we can gain their trust, get more individuals off the streets and into shelters so that they can get connected to services that will enhance their lives.” Tentative start date for the camping and parking areas is May 1, 2022.

M St. Navigation Center is one part of the solution. Next week I’ll be focusing on the Brundage Lane Navigation Center, to give you a chance to see how each facility, while similar, bring some unique solutions to our homeless crisis. If you have any questions about this or and District 4 matter, don’t hesitate to contact us at 661-868-3680 or at [email protected]. Have a safe week.


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