Bakersfield businessman worries about homeless camped near train tracks

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) A Bakersfield businessman said Thursday that he can't get help dealing with homeless people living near the tracks next to his parking lot.

There are tents, trash, crime and behavior that worries him. Steven Phipps called a number of different agencies with little success, but some charities now say they will reach out to the homeless in that area.

Phipps is with Five Star Enterprises, and they're based at the end of H Street north of Golden State Avenue. It's just south of the Kern County Museum. In between are a pair of railroad tracks owned by Union Pacific.

On Wednesday, Phipps talked to a railroad employee, and he also had a troubling encounter with a homeless woman.

"I was cussed out, lady was just totally out of it. I finally calmed her down," he described. "You don't know what these people will do, and that's what's kind of scary."

Thursday, Phipps called Eyewitness News, and showed us what he's worried about.

"They had two, maybe three encampments the other day," he said, walking on the south side of the tracks. "But, I see there's a set-up over there."

We spotted a tarp on the north side of the tracks, surrounded by debris, with an upholstered chair sitting nearby.

Phipps described it as a "ton of trash," and Eyewitness News spotted a man in the tent. A black tarp was set up not far away. On the south side of the tracks two carts sat on a dirt path, piled high. We spotted clothes, dog food, water, some dishes, and even some VCR movies.

Phipps said that's not unusual. In fact, there's usually more.

And, then there's all the shopping carts.

"I've had enough to make a store envious," he said. On Thursday he had a number of carts gathered up behind a gate in his company's lot.

The business is behind a fence, but Phipps says the homeless people break through the fence. "They're breaking in, and they're brazen."

The woman he calmed down on Wednesday was yelling about a stove-top still left in the dirt. Phipps is afraid it might have been stolen out of one of the trailers that's parked in one of the nearby storage lots.

He was not encouraged by his encounter with the railroad worker.

"His attitude was that there's really nothing that anybody can do," Phipps said. "They're just going to break in anyway."

There's a large gate to the tracks at the dead-end of H Street, and Phipps said he thinks that's owned by the railroad. He said the gate's been broken open for a long time.

On Thursday, Eyewitness News contacted Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt in Sacramento about Phipps' concerns.

"We'll look into this," Hunt said. He hadn't heard about this specific situation, but Hunt said the railroad takes these issues very seriously.

"These are significant safety concerns for us," Hunt said. "There are safety concerns for anyone who's using the (railroad) right-of-way for any reason."

Phipps said it was probably the railroad that cleaned up a lot of trash near the tracks about a month ago, and he's grateful for that.

Phipps has also called Bakersfield Police and Code Enforcement. On Thursday, Code Officer Dave Paquette told Eyewitness News his department and police had been to that area in the last several weeks, and cleared out "four or five camps."

He said the people were told to leave, but that's about all they can do since it's on railroad property.

On Thursday, a woman who called herself "Gypsy Cross" crossed the tracks to the west, and walked up. She said she knows who owns that stuff in the two carts, but she hasn't seen them for a while.

She also said she'd seen the railroad worker recently, and joked that she wanted a job picking up the trash people leave in the area. She was willing to be paid a drink and a cupcake every day, she said. Gypsy said she's living on the streets, temporarily, and she sympathized with people who stay in the area by Phipps' business, except for them leaving trash behind.

Looking for more solutions, Eyewitness News contacted Flood Ministries. They work with the Kern County Homeless Collaborative. A spokeswoman said they would try to get an outreach worker into that area as soon as possible to make contact with any homeless people they could.

And, Jim Wheeler with the collaborative said he would be happy to work with Phipps to look for ways to deal with the situation.

Phipps said he's simply frustrated and worried about the dangers.

"All those bushes and trees," he said pointing to an area near the second tarp, "They caught fire. There was some sort of arguments."

He worries about mental health issues and drug use. On Thursday a syringe was spotted in the dirt next to his fence.

Phipps wants help from some agency, or someone. "I know that they're swamped," he said. "I know they're trying their best. But, there's got to be something that we can do."