People talk about homeless and related issues of crime, drug addiction, abusive families and poverty

Taft's homeless problem, its causes and effects, and the effects it has on the community - is a complex one.

Now, the City Council is taking steps to find answers to the vexing problems that both come with the problem and are at the root of it -- crime, drug addiction, abusive families and poverty.

The process started on Feb. 20 with a wide-ranging discussion at a workshop held as part of the meeting.

It's only a beginning.

"This meeting is just a start," said Mayor Dave Noerr. "We don't have the answers."

This was a start for the City Council, but there have been several meetings held over the last year-and-a-half by a loose coalition of groups trying to find solutions."

Plans to help the homeless are still beginning. One local group is providing sandwiches and another is planning to get a trailer with showers for use by the homeless.

Others are looking at the root causes and some consensus are coming out.

Most of Taft's homeless are local, a representative from a Bakersfield homeless shelter told a coalition last summer.

Most of them have families here, but are estranged from them, primarily because of drug abuse and behavior problems.

City Councilmember Renee Hill first asked that the issue be addressed by the Council at a December meeting.

In early February, Ron Orrin came to the council to express concerns about homelessness drug and alcohol abuse and crime and that spurred the Council to ask staff to put the issue on the agenda immediately.

Several groups are trying to address the issue but none said they have all the answers.

Taft isn't alone in dealing with the problem.

Lucille Holt of the NEEDS Center, which provides food to the poor, said homelessness is also increasing significantly in Kern County and around the state.

Taft's homeless issues underwent a change and became more visible to a larger part of the population when a recycling center behind the Pilot Plaza at the north end of the city closed.

Now scavengers and homeless and the search cans and bottles they find to West Kern Street to sell them for money to eat on.

It caused a shift in where the homeless stay and where they scavenge.
Today, downtown to the west on Cascade Place and the Church Street-Hillard corridor are now the biggest problem areas.

Residents in the area have seen a huge increase in scavenging.

On a daily basis Taft Police get calls of homeless people sleeping in doorways and next to buildings in the downtown.
Several weeks ago public works crews cleaned up a homeless encampment on the 300 block of Sixth Street. That small camp sprung up after an abandoned house was boarded up.

It's been a safety issue at the West Side Recreation and Park District, where District staff and police had to subdue one trespasser who would leave.

Dealing with the issue is complex and difficult - both from a law enforcement standpoint and from the charitable side.

Some are trying to start with providing the basics.
St. Andrews Episcopal Church started providing sandwiches for the homeless and hungry in the evening, and Rev. Heather Mueller has found it gives her an insight into the causes of homelessness.

"I learned by feeding the hungry that the homeless issue is complicated. The people that are homeless are frequently the people who have been neglected and abused," she said.

Dug abuse is another major factor, said Kathy Edgecomb, who works with Mueller at the St. Andrews sandwich program.

Trixie Hodges agreed. She has the perspective of first-hand knowledge of drug use in her family and said being an addict or coming from a family with addiction and drug use isn't an excuse.

Drug abuse is big factor in another issue that has close ties to the homelessness and poverty -- crime.

Thefts, trespassing and other petty crimes are increasing and there's little law enforcement can do other that issue repeated citations to people who will serve little if any jail time.

A week before the City Council workshop, outgoing Chief of Police Ed Whiting urged people to keep their recyclables safe and suggested a program to have aluminum and CRV plastic beverage containers taken to schools as a fundraiser to eliminate a big part of the reward for scavenging.

For the next step, a town hall meeting is being planned to bring more people into the discussion.