Bakersfield officials clear out homeless camps by Kern River

A homeless encampment is seen along the Kern River in Bakersfield, Calif., Thursday, March 17, 2016. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Dozens of homeless camps are being cleared out along the Kern River through Bakersfield this week, but some neighbors who live in the area say they want more permanent solutions.

One neighbor said there needs to be a common sense approach that really helps the people who live there.

"The real question, and I hope somebody has an answer to this, where are we going to put these people?" Dennis Nate said.

He owns a home and stable facility that adjoin the Kern River. Nate said during the four years he's been there, city officials have cleaned out the homeless camps, and they just come back.

"Within 24 hours after you see these trucks roll out, it's going to be right back underneath there," Nate said -- pointing to a big tree not far from his back fence.

On Thursday, Bakersfield City crews were clearing up the remains of that campsite, pushing trash and debris to one side, and loading it into a dump truck.

On Wednesday, at a nearby spot along the river, Bakersfield City Building Director Phil Burns was at a similar clean-up site.

"We have individuals that are camping on the river," he explained. "That's not allowed by municipal code." Burns said the clusters of tents and small structures, and people living in them, cause a number of problems.

"It's the trash, debris, the health, unsanitary conditions with what's going on with where they're going to the bathroom," Burns said. "It's the bulk nature and the amount of debris that's out here."

City officials say they are clearing out some 70 homeless camps this week.

Last week yellow notices had been put up at camp sites. It gave a date for when people had to leave and take their things.

City officials said anything still left behind would be scooped up, and taken to the land fill. People still there could take belongings with them. Other abandoned possessions would be seized by the city, and people could appear at a hearing to claim them.

Robert Davidson has been living under the tree near Nate's stables, and Davidson had moved a lot of stuff up on an access road. The pile of belongings included food, a sleeping bag, tarps, shopping carts, and some crates.

Davidson said it was all his, and Nate had agreed to store it -- if he couldn't find someplace else. Nate said the stuff actually belonged to a total of four homeless people.

"I've been out here three years now," Davidson said, adding that was various places along the riverbed.

He said he picks up trash all the time. He doesn't fault the city for clearing out the homeless camps. He said the officials are just following the law.

Anthony Hazelwood thinks the city could do more. He said homeless people like himself get help from local charities, but he thinks the city should be more "proactive."

As for why he lives along the river?

"I've had a drinking problem," Hazelwood said. "Others, it's drug problems or just not being able to keep a job. And that's what brings homelessness out here."

As a neighbor, Dennis Nate thinks the city or county could put out trash cans or trash bins, and that would help reduce some of the problems.

He thinks the cleanup is a good thing, but there must be a better solution.

"In my opinion, tens of thousands of dollars have been wasted," Nate said. "Within 24 hours after you see these trucks roll out, (the trash) is going to be right back."

He also thinks the underlying issue of homelessness needs to be addressed, and just not cleared out year after year.

"The leaders of this community, I beg them to have an end game," Nate said.

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