"Baby steps" at the outset starting with food, portable showers and possibly restrooms

Midway Driller Editor




Efforts to deal with Taft's homeless problem and help those on living on the streets by local faith-based and nonprofit organizations are continuing.

Two months after a lengthy Taft City Council public discussion of the combined problems of homelessness and petty crime, a coalition of both Taft and Bakersfield nonprofits and faith-based organizations is formulating plans to develop strategies to get people back into the mainstream.

the group has been meeting regularly for more than a year to coordinate efforts and plan the next steps.

It's not going to be easy and it’s not going to happen overnight, said Westside Community Resource Director Sandy Koenig, and the discussion needs to move past finger pointing and hostility towards the homeless.

"This is a tough issue, this is a tough issue, it’s one that  has people taking sides," Koenig said at a meeting last week.

"It's a hard issue, it's a tough issue... people feel very strongly," agreed local pastor Cindy Brettschneider.

Still, progress is being made.

Food is now available on a daily basis through St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and on Wednesday through the Assembly of God.

Clothing is available from the Methodist Church and Assembly of God, and the Hellfighters motorcycle ministry is planning to have a trailer with restrooms and showers for the homeless in Taft later this year.

Other basic needs identified included charging sources for personal devices and safe storage.

Both needs are important because public restrooms are often locked at night to cut down on vandalism by people who start staying there.

Taft Police Sgt. Corey Beilby said he is often asked about open restrooms by the homeless.

An option being discussed is setting up portable toilets on the edge of town.
Beilby often contacts homeless people on patrol, and is now becoming the department liaison to the homeless efforts.

"A lot of people say they want to get help, they want to get off the streets," Beilby said.

Helping the homeless is going to take time, funding and patience.

"We've got to get them stabilized to the point where they're not just thinking about survival or who's going to steal their stuff.

She said a tracking system is needed to collect statistics on homeless, a key factor in getting funding.

Koenig also said it's going to take a group effort and a lot of time, even several years.

In addition to the short term clothing and food programs, longer-term actions are also in the planning stages.
In the medium term, planning to coordinate the faith-based and nonprofits with government is a key.
Rev. Heather Mueller, pastor at St. Andrew’s, said she was encouraged by the Taft City Council after a recent discussion.

Other plans are the implementation of a coordinated registry, start a triage program to coordinate between public safety and the available system of health care -- mental health, medical care and homeless shelters.

Longer range plans include coordinating a funding stream, creation of a homeless day center  to help with basic needs, resources, case management and referrals to create community job opportunities and, ultimately a comprehensive homeless shelter..

"It's not one agency that's going to get it done. It’s a group of agencies that get together," Koenig said. “It's going to take baby steps. Getting something somewhere is better than getting nothing nowhere."