Southeast Bakersfield Deserves Better

Arleana Waller, Real Estate Developer

Letter to the Editor

When I learned in the news the City of Bakersfield was going to build a homeless facility in Southeast Bakersfield, I was heartbroken. I felt like everything we were working towards was thrown back in our faces. We weren’t asked whether we thought it was a good idea. We were told it was happening and that was the end of it. It was very disrespect to our community.

I attended the recent Bakersfield City Council meeting to discuss a new low-barrier homeless shelter in Southeast Bakersfield. I understood going into that meeting that hundreds of people are homeless and many thousands more live below the poverty line and are on the verge of homelessness in this community. There is no doubt in my mind we have a problem and it must be addressed, but placing a new homeless shelter in the Southeast with the potential for over 450 beds is not the solution. It’s a disruptive idea.

I love Southeast Bakersfield and I know the area well. This part of our community has struggled for decades with access to grocery stores, pharmacies, parks, basic infrastructure like gutters and sidewalks and has not seen much new residential development for a long time. In other words, this area continues to fight for the basics. The basics many other parts of our city enjoy, as a given. Building a new shelter facility would further compound these challenges and make it even harder to improve a community in such desperate need.

I recently had the honor of facilitating a community meeting with residents from the MLK/Cottonwood area. For the first time (in a long time), I actually saw hope in the eyes of those in attendance. People were excited at the possibility of revitalizing their neighborhood. In the room that night were City Councilman Willie Rivera and County Supervisor Leticia Perez. They both heard first-hand what their constituents needed. The list was long. We talked about the need for access to fresh food at reasonable prices, the community is paying as much as $9 for a box of cereal, the need for a community center, the need for accessible healthcare and better schools and the need for infrastructure investments. No one mentioned the need for a homeless shelter facility in their neighborhood.

I am committed to working with the City and the residents of Southeast Bakersfield to stabilize and revitalize this neighborhood. This community has suffered from the stigma of drugs, gangs, poverty and crime for way too long and I want to help change that. Southeast Bakersfield has great, untapped potential and the ingredients for success are already there. Building a homeless shelter in the middle of this neighborhood, is not an answer to their cries, it would set us back significantly. And that is the last thing this community deserves.

Arleana Waller
Real Estate Developer