New Homelessness System in Kern Co., Calif.

As the homeless situation continues to intensify in Los Angeles and Orange County, tension has been mounting in Bakersfield over homelessness. Just last month, Kern County Supervisors were confronted by a group of women who wanted to know why they were seeing more homeless people and if homeless people were purportedly being transported to Bakersfield.

According to the Kern County Homeless Collaborative’s Point in Time Count from January, Bakersfield saw a nine percent increase in the homeless population despite seeing a hefty drop in total from 2007.

At the end of this month, a ten-year plan, spearheaded by former mayor Harvey Hall, to end homelessness will sunset, and a new plan will begin. A key stepping stone in that new plan is the coordinated entry system. It’s being touted as a possible solution to seeing a visible difference in our homeless communities, and it’s being implemented all across the country.

Heather Kimmel of the Kern Housing Authority says the program is meant to pinpoint the most vulnerable and get them into housing in the most expedited way possible:

This system is going to play an integral role in reducing and ultimately ending homelessness in our community. It’s going to allow us to provide services in a more expedited way, it’s going to allow us to target those resources for the most vulnerable in our community, and it’s going to give us good real-time data to start analyzing gaps so we’re not going depend on data we receive once a year in January.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Eighteen agencies are currently working off the same centralized database. In the past, if a homeless person entered one of the twenty-six resources devoted to homelessness, that individual did not necessarily get housed. According to Kimmel, the previous system in place was not focused on helping the most vulnerable and was too fragmented to help the homeless get to the right source. Kimmel says this current system is meant to rectify those issues and catalyze the process for getting housed.

Kimmel says this database will be a community effort, and the Homeless Collaborative is currently holding presentations to better educate organizations on the new system.  She added:

We’re actually giving many presentations right now as the Homeless Collaborative to members of the community…business owners, faith-based organizations…about how they can come to the table and help us in this effort. Homelessness is a community issue. It’s not an agency issue. It’s not a government issue. It’s a community issue. And if we’re really going to move the needle and impact Kern County, it’s going to take everybody to do that.

Kimmel does not anticipate any negative feedback on the program. She believes most people won’t notice what she says will be a difference in our streets. She believes outreach workers are trained well enough to execute the questions and does not anticipate additional reticence from the homeless community.

Matthew Billington of Flood Ministries is currently using the survey when he performs outreach work to find out who is vulnerable and connect them to the right resource. He says it’s been a bit overwhelming since the program is in its infancy stages. Kimmel says:

We ask questions that help us identify the vulnerability based on their mental health status, substance abuse status, physical health status. Basically, what we learn from the survey is who is the most mentally ill, who is the most medically vulnerable, who has the highest need for supportive service and wrap-around services in housing intervention.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *