Outreach worker and sergeant to talk with people about getting off the streets

Taft Police are going to be cooperating and coordinating with a Bakersfield homeless shelter to get people off the streets of Taft.

Taft Police Sgt. Corey Beilby is going to be working with an outreach worker from a Bakersfield program to offer homeless people a chance at a better life.

The issue of homelessness and the problems that come with it – trespassing and sleeping in alleys, abandoned buildings, parks and even on downtown roofs and sidewalks – has been growing in Taft for two decades and has turned into a major local issue as the number of homeless increases across the nation. It's increasing even faster in California, according to the program director for the Mission of Kern County, which operates a shelter, outreach and residential programs to help the homeless.

"Homelessness has become a hot topic," Steve Peterson said.

It's increasing twice as fast in California as it is in the rest of the nation, he added, and Bakersfield has seen a 49 percent increase in the number of homeless. In Taft, it's estimated there are about three dozen truly homeless people.
Tuesday, Mission Program Director Steve Peterson, outreach worker Brandon Puterbaugh and Kevin Codd, a man completing the Mission's faith-based residential program, met with Beilby, Chief of Police Damon McMinn, City Manager Craig Jones and mayor Dave Noerr before a public discussion at the Taft City Council meeting. Beilby, though his work as patrol sergeant at night, regularly contacts the homeless, Jones said.
"He knows a lot of these people and they've learned to trust him," Jones said.

Beilby has been attending meetings of the West Side Collaborative as it tries to develop programs to help the homeless.

Puterbaugh, himself a graduate of the Mission's residency program, visits Taft twice a month through a grant that also funds outreach to other Kern County communities. He welcomed the help from the city after the meeting.

"There's a couple of good ideas that came out of that," he said. "There's always hope. It's all of us working together to do it. It's not one person, it's not one idea."

One of the ideas was having Beilby make contacts with the Mission outreach to talk to people about getting off the street.

Puterbaugh said it is hard to earn the trust of the homeless and bring them into the shelter.

On average, Puterbaugh said, it takes 17 contacts with a person before they decide to come to a shelter.

He maintains the contacts on a by weekly basis by offering food, clothing and other items.

Noerr and Puterbaugh also touched on a frequently made allegation – that homeless people are being dumped in Taft.

"How often do you bring people from Bakersfield to Taft?" Noerr asked.

"I've never driven anybody from Bakersfield to Taft," Puterbaugh said.
A short time later, Rev. Heather Mueller address the Council on homelessness in Taft. She runs a food program at St. Andrews Episcopal Church.

"It's time for this town to think of the people who are living on the fringes, in the shadows," she said.

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