High-speed rail project leaves local homeless shelter in the dust

The Bakersfield Homeless Center, seen Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, will be destroyed as part of the high-speed rail project. Shelter officials say they are asking for early acquisition, so they can move forward. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Public comment started to help decide what route the high-speed rail will take to cut through Bakersfield, if and when it comes through town.

No matter what path is finalized, both current options completely take out the Bakersfield Homeless Center.

Officials at the shelter said they have accepted the fate of the building, but they have a problem with how it's being done.

"My concern and my problem is with the authority," Louis Gill, CEO of the Bakersfield Homeless Center said. "They are doing harm to our organization and our ability to serve people who have no voice, and have no other option."

Gill said the High-Speed Rail Authority said they will need to eventually acquire the center, but they can not say when.

The shelter asked for early acquisition, but recently got a letter from the Rail Authority that said in part:

"I understand that the prospect of being acquired for the high-speed rail project can be difficult for business and landowners. However, the High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) cannot move forward with an early acquisition of the property in question."

The letter continues to say, "Our organization's focus is on delivering the initial operating section outlines in our 2016 Business Plan (defined as the Silicon Valley to Central Valley Line) that runs from downtown San Jose to Poplar Ave. in Shafter, north of the location of the Homeless Center. Given our constrained resources, the Authority cannot support the early acquisition of properties outside of this operating segment and we remain in agreement with the Public Works Board's determination on the matter."

The letter notes that getting the bullet train into Bakersfield will "require a number of administrative decisions on the Authority's behalf, additional funds, and the contracting for the expenditure of those funds."

Gill said the homeless center can't relocate until they are bought by the Authority because they would need that funding.

"Trying to relocate an organization that serves several hundred homeless people a day is going to be complicated," he said.

Gill said they are at the mercy of the Rail Authority, and waiting around is causing harm to the center.

"We're an older facility, we get used hard every day and it required regular capital investment," he said. "Right now donors are not at all interested in investing in things that are breaking down because there is no guarantee that that investment is going to be used for its lifespan."

Gill said basically donors don't want to give money and resources to a shelter that will probably be torn down in the near future.

"How do you ethically go to a donor and request that donation?" he said.

Gill said the center operated 365 days a year and they can't take downtime. He said in order to move, they would need another building ready to go.

"So we have to have a facility that serves dinner here and the next morning folks wake up we put them on buses and they go to the new facility. There is nowhere else for our families to go," Gill said.

Every night the shelter serves about 100 kids and 70 adults. Gill said it is essential they always stay open for the community.

"We are a critical part of the safety net for Kern County," he said. "There is no option in this portion of California, we're it. We have to exist. We have to do a good job," he said.

Gill said he feels the center is being compromised and he wants to be able to move towards the future instead of sitting around and waiting.

"Best case scenario is that they [ Rail Authority] agree that we are a candidate for early acquisition, and they get the political will to move forward and purchase the facility so we can serve people," he said. "We are held hostage right now by indecision by the high-speed rail, so until they decide to help us, all we can do is tread water."

Eyewitness News reached out to the High-Speed Rail Authority about the Bakersfield Homeless Center's concerns, but have not heard back.

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