The City of Bakersfield could soon get state funding to provide more services to the homeless.
Assemblyman Phil Ting introduced legislation last week that would provide $1.5 billion to cities through one-time matching grants, totalling $3 billion in state and local funds to address the homeless issue.
The legislation came after Mayor Karen Goh and 10 other mayors across the state, known as the Big 11 because they represent California’s 11 largest cities, signed a letter sent to the state earlier this month requesting that some of the state’s $6.1 billion budget surplus be used for cities to combat homelessness.
“I’m glad to unite with my fellow mayors in addressing this critical crisis that is affecting our community,” Goh said. “Homelessness presents a growing challenge for cities throughout our state. We need immediate intervention to stem the tide. I’m happy that our state is seeing this as an important issue that must be addressed.”
The request came as many cities are struggling to deal with a growing homeless crisis. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, California’s homeless population rose by 13 percent in 2016 and 14 percent in 2017.
“Homelessness is a state crisis, but we cannot do it alone,” Ting said in a press release. “This year, we need to identify resources to partner with cities to build more shelters and augment additional services so we can get people off our streets and into shelter as fast as possible.”
In Bakersfield, the number of homeless seems to be fluctuating. The Kern County Homeless Collaborative’s Point-in-Time count, which looks at the homeless population for one day in January, reported 810 homeless people, a decrease from 1,067 in 2016.
The collaborative has already conducted their 2018 count but the data won’t be available until later this spring.
“It’s certainly an issue we get a lot of complaints about,” said Assistant City Manager Steve Teglia. “You go to certain parts of town and you can see how they’ve been impacted by homelessness.”
Goh said that if the city gets funding, outreach should be a priority. She said that while there are service providers available to help the homeless, there’s a large percentage of the population who refuse to accept services due to mental health problems, fear and other factors.
“Until we’re able to effectively connect with them, develop that trust and relationship, we can’t get them to accept services that would make a difference for them,” she said.
Goh said some of the money should be used to hire people specifically focusing on homeless outreach, something she said the city doesn’t currently have.
“It’s important to have people out on the street making connections,” she said. “Outreach is an essential component to us moving toward a solution. We need to be able to connect the homeless with the services they need.”
Goh said she would also like to see some of the money go toward providing more transitional housing, especially for women.
Teglia said the city doesn’t have any plan or wish list yet on what they would do with the funding if they got it. However, like Mayor Goh, he believes that more shelter space should be considered.
Teglia said he’s excited that there’s a chance the city could get additional funding to help the homeless in Bakersfield.
“We’re more than happy to receive additional assistance,” he said. “It’s great that there’s a willingness in the Legislature to respond to [the Big 11’s] request. It’s good first start. Hopefully it will lead to funding.”
Besides Bakersfield, the ninth-largest city in the state, the Big 11 is made up of mayors from Fresno, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Long Beach, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento.