[Hpn] Bakersfield: Homeless population expanding

David Crockett Williams gear2000@lightspeed.net
Mon, 05 Jun 2000 17:33:26 -0700


Bakersfield Californian newspaper, June 5, 2000 edition
[Editor-- opinion@bakersfield.com]

http://www.bakersfield.com/top/i--1251966360.asp

Homeless population expanding
Filed: 06/04/2000

By MARIA MACHUCA
Bakersfield Californian staff writer
e-mail: mmachuca@bakersfield.com

Walk inside the Bakersfield Homeless Center and you will see a small room
with toys and books.

Children, including toddlers, play and laugh outside as they take turns for
a playground swing. They are homeless but don't realize it. However, their
mothers, who watch them play, do.

So do administrators and caseworkers who are scrambling to accommodate their
new clients.

In recent years, the homeless population has changed dramatically. People
from different backgrounds, especially young women with children, single men
and women, mentally ill people and drug addicts have crammed the homeless
shelters, local shelter administrators said.

"It's no longer a stereotype ... the crusty old man, 50 to 60 years old who
jumped off the railroad tracks," Rev. Daniel Gorman, executive director of
the Rescue Mission.

"If you walk in here, you'll see young kids, you'll see children, you'll see
beautiful young women who have a variety of reasons that brought them here."

Three single mothers watching their children play on the playground of the
Homeless Center revealed their stories to The Californian.

"People with problems"

"I used to think that the homeless were just bums," said Janeen Conrad, 31,
as tears rolled down her cheeks, "but it's also people with problems."

She and her 3-year-old son, Chris, had been evicted from her boyfriend's
apartment the day before.

"The manager of his apartment evicted me. She asked me to leave or everybody
else would have to leave, so I left," Conrad said.

For about 13 years, Conrad said, she worked at a fast-food restaurant, but
she lost her job after she was accused of stealing money.

Although Conrad occasionally had to move in with friends or relatives
because she didn't have money, she didn't think of herself as homeless.

When she was younger, she even went to college for one year "with classes
here and there," she said. After Chris was born, she signed up for welfare,
which she receives off and on.

"You can't really do it on your own living on welfare. It's good when you
are working and still receiving aid," she said. "I have done it and it works
great."

She is back on welfare and she hopes to put together enough money to get out
of the homeless shelter.

"I'm planning on taking the check I'm supposed to get in the next couple of
weeks and rent a little trailer in Ridgecrest or an apartment, something
cheap," she said.

Conrad's case is hardly uncommon at the homeless shelter.

"Two years ago, we were helping maybe two or three families and they would
stay only for about two weeks," said caseworker Tracy Molina of the Homeless
Center, operated by Bethany Services.

"Now we have at least 10 families per month, and those families stay from 30
to 60 days," she said.

Back in 1997 and 1998, Molina said, her caseload consisted of about 18 or 19
families.

Now she has 47. There also has been a 25 to 35 percent increase in the
number of young single people coming to the Homeless Center.

The Rescue Mission currently houses 12 women and their children - most in
rehabilitation to try to recover from a crisis situation.

"Before we didn't even house the homeless women," said Jeanie Bayus, case
manager for the homeless intervention center at the Rescue Mission.

Gorman said the average age of homeless people in this county as well as in
Bakersfield is between 25 and 30 years old.

He said a lot of teen-agers and young children are becoming homeless, saying
the fastest-growing group is 16- to 21-year-old females.

Center expansion plans are under way to prepare for an even greater change
in the homeless population, said Louis Gill, executive director of the
Homeless Center.

"It's proactive instead of reactive," Gill said. Homeless Center officials
want to be prepared to offer services to all their homeless clients.

Just like the Rescue Mission, the Homeless Center is also trying to get the
homeless to become self-sufficient so they don't go back to the streets.

Bethany Services recently purchased property next to its shelter for
expansion and increased the number of case managers for families, Gill said.

Shelter administrators and staff agreed the economy is not causing the
increased homeless problem. It is a series of social changes.

Changes in the homeless population can be attributed to a greater awareness
about domestic violence, dysfunctional families, drugs, and various law
changes, they said.

"Some of the issues are social dynamics," Gorman said. "We definitely live
in a society that is more into alcohol and drug abuse than ever.

"We have a lot more family separations and divorce that helps to add to this
problem," he said.

In many cases, Gill said, there is "a woman who is only one check away from
becoming homeless."

For the other two women watching their children play on the Homeless Center
playground, a check from welfare is their only means to get out of the
homeless shelter.

From shelter to shelter

Donna Johnson,19, and her two daughters, Delaney, 2, and Danielle, 1, have
been bouncing from shelter to shelter for three months.

"I had my own place and I let my friend come and live with me, but when the
bills got high she left," she said. When Johnson was unable to make the $375
rent payment for her two-bedroom apartment, she was evicted.

Johnson said her girls' father is in jail.

Since then, Johnson has been receiving welfare, food stamps and Medicare for
her children. Before becoming homeless, Johnson attended Bakersfield Adult
School to get a hair stylist license.

"But I had to quit because my friend didn't want to watch my kids anymore,"
she said.

Alicia Flores and her4-year-old son, Samuel, became homeless in May.

"The welfare department just sent me here (Bakersfield Homeless Center)
until I can get back on my feet and I'm able to get my own apartment," she
said.

Flores, 23, who has suffered from diabetes for four years, said she was
hospitalized for three days not too long ago.

She said she can't work because of the disease.

"My doctor won't release me to go to work until my sugar levels are down,"
she said.

Her closest relatives, she said, already live in crowded conditions and
didn't have room for them.

Molina said with the increased numbers of homeless families, mentally ill
people and drug addicts, accommodations have become harder to find.

"If someone is mentally ill, we can't let them stay with the women and
children," she said.

Erma Kendrick, executive director of the Mental Health Association, said
housing people with mental illnesses is difficult because some are paranoid
and can't tolerate being indoors or around too many people.

Adjust to accommodate

But as the homeless population becomes more diverse, shelters will adjust to
accommodate.

"In our society, we become very detail-oriented in our programs in that we
have programs for women, we have programs for men, psychiatric centers, we
have alcohol rehabs ... but in a rescue mission like ours we are kind of
like a Wal-Mart or Kmart ... in that at 11 o'clock we have to be able to
deal with anyone who comes through our door," Gorman said.

Gorman doesn't want the Rescue Mission to be portrayed as a psychiatric
center. Rather, he said, he wants it to be perceived not only as a place to
get shelter and meals, but as a place where people can move toward
independence.

For that reason, he said, the Rescue Mission has incorporated case
management, counseling and recreation, depending on the need of each
homeless individual.

"We are willing to adapt to their needs," Gorman said.

"Twenty years ago when I started in this field, the average age of a
homeless person in this country was about 55 years old to 60 years old and
male, so all of our rescue missions were focused on that chronic alcoholic
male," he said.

---end forwarded article--------


--dcw

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