Homeless center takes a bullet train

AK Pachla, Copy Editor

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As the California High-Speed Rail Authority breaks ground in Fresno for the newly approved bullet train, the Bakersfield Homeless Center has found itself caught on the tracks, as either of the proposed routes the train might take through Bakersfield go right through the land on which it sits.

Earlier this month, the rail authority announced the start of major construction projects across central California in advance of the bullet train.  This will be the first such train in the United States.

Moving the homeless center is no small matter. The amount of resources packed into that modest amount of square footage, from the donation center to the family dorms, is astonishing.

According to the Bakersfield Homeless Center’s website, it served about 2,000 people last year, and according to the center’s manager of external affairs, Cindy Lyday, at least 100 of the people currently receiving services are children.

In addition to providing daily meals and temporary housing to the dispossessed, the homeless center offers licensed infant and toddler care at Discovery Depot, tutoring and mentoring from both BC and CSUB students, as well as professionals and community leaders for school aged children at Champ Camp.

The homeless center also offers job training and placement services.  Through a partnership with the city, clients staying at the center can get jobs at the animal shelter or doing highway cleanup in order to rebuild their work history.  “Nobody wants to hire you when your address is 1600 E. Truxtun Avenue,” Lyday said.  The center’s job clients earn a wage for their work, and the center offers regular seminars in money management and home economics.

Lyday believes in the services of the homeless center, and sees how it affects the lives of the people there.  Speaking about the Champ Camp educational resource, she said she’s seen dramatic turnarounds. “When you’re homeless, the first thing to go is schoolwork,” said Lyday, “but they can get straight A’s within a month or two” with the encouragement and tutoring of the volunteer mentors.

On top of the direct social services provided by the homeless center, they also keep a warehouse full of donated goods and items. “We take anything,” Lyday assured.  “Stuff is constantly coming in and moving on out, because clients are moving.” The front of the donation center is full of clothes and house wares, while nonperishable food items line shelves in the back.

As ground breaks on the construction of the bullet train, the clock starts on the current shelter facilities. There are two proposed paths the train could take as it passes through Bakersfield, and both displace the homeless center. “They said no matter what route they take, we’re in the crosshairs of both,” said Lyday, worried about the daunting task of having to move clients.

Even so, Lyday is looking forward to the future.  The shelter has been a topic of discussion among city and county officials, and the grant to purchase new property for a shelter is in the works. This means planning on the part of the shelter team.  “Our board members are thinking, and we’ve got architects putting pen to paper and sketching out stuff for us. It’s exciting,” said Lyday.

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