Teams will canvass area at 4 a.m. on Jan. 30

Volunteers will be contacting and counting people living in the streets, alleys and ditches in Taft at the end of of the month as part of the Kern County Point-in-Time Homeless Census.

The census will take place from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Jan. 30 for unsheltered homeless.
People staying in shelters in Kern County will be counted the night before.

Jessica Janssen, homeless coordinator for the United Way of kern County, and Holly Arnold, who works with Janssen in the Kern County Homeless Collaborative, spoke about the upcoming census at the Taft Chamber of Commerce's Sit n's sip Wednesday morning.

The annual census is a key part of obtaining state and federal aid for the county to deal with the homeless, Janssen said, and money is doled out based on the number of homeless counted in the once-a-year canvass.

It also helps the Homeless Collaborative assess the needs of the homeless in each community, she added

In addition, it tells the United Way and Homeless Collaborative how best to utilize their resources.

Last year's count showed a sharp increase in the number of young people living in the streets or in shelters and a significant drop in the number of veterans with no place to stay.

The homeless veteran count was down 11 percent in 2018, Janssen.

"If we see an 11 percent decrease in veterans, we know our veterans program is working.

A 13 percent increase in people aged 18 to 24 sends another message.
"We are going to have to adjust our funding to target our youth," she said.

Overall, the Homeless population was up 9 percent in the 2019 census, Janssen said

The Kern Homeless Census started in 2007 with the help of the late Harvey Hall, owner of Hall Ambulance and then the mayor of Bakersfield.

Arnold had just gone to work for Hall Ambulance as director of community relations and said sometimes she was drafted to work with Hall on city projects as well.

Homelessness was one of them.

"It was Mr. Hall It was his vision," Arnold said. "He couldn't believe people were living in our county under tumbleweeds to stay warm."

Both Arnold and Janssen said taking part in the homeless census is a "life-changing experience."

Volunteers will go out in teams matching experience census takers with new volunteers after a 90-minute training session several days prior.

Safety is a priority, Arnold and Janssen said, but both emphasized the homeless they contact are more than happy to talk.

"You'd be surprised how helpful they are," Janssen said.