The Kern County Homeless Collaborative's official informational flyer states that one of our main activities is to become a voice for the voiceless by advocating on behalf of the homeless.
That is exactly what some of the leadership of the Homeless Collaborative did yesterday (10/16/2012) at the Regular Board Meeting of the Golden Empire Transit District (GET Bus), echoing the concerns of many homeless persons about altered routes and discontinued bus stops that have left many feeling like their needs have been totally--sometimes dangerously--ignored.
Some 60 members of the public and the local media crowded the GET Bus board room to discuss the changes to the public transport system implemented on October 7.
Starkly juxtaposed to the positive presentation from Gina Hayden, GET's Marketing and Business Development Manager who boasted about the new express and rapid routes, connections, and improved bus service to the colleges, were the voices of discontent from disabled, low-income and homeless riders who took turns addressing the board for up to three minutes each during the public comment period.
Some of the most poignantly voiced concerns included:
- Wait times for the bus are now longer;
- Connections to new routes are inefficient;
- A close-to-home bus stop was taken away and the distance to the new closest stop is too long;
- Many bus stops are poorly lit at night, and signs are sometimes hard to see because they are hidden behind shrubbery;
- With the upcoming time change, the long walk after dark to and from the nearest bus stop becomes more dangerous, especially for women;
- Bus service to such popular venues as the Rabobank Arena ends too early in the evening, preventing users from being able to enjoy a wide array of cultural events in town;
- The long walk to and from the nearest bus stop will increase the danger of heatstroke for many in summer, as a large number of GET Bus users are seniors and disabled persons;
- For those using wheelchairs, the longer distance to bus stops will cause added wear and tear on their mobility equipment;
- Users of the GET Bus were not consulted enough--or at all--before new changes were implemented, and are left feeling disenfranchised and disrespected as consumers;
- An overall perception that the GET Bus Board does not understand the needs of the poor, elderly and disabled, who are the primary users of public transport;
- A convenient bus stop for homeless families that was located in front of the Bakersfield Homeless Center (the local emergency shelter that primarily serves homeless women and children) was removed, and the closest stop is now several blocks away in a high-crime area and on the other side of Edison Highway, a wide thoroughfare that is dangerous for pedestrians to cross.
This last concern had been urgently brought before the Steering Committee of the Homeless Collaborative at its monthly meeting earlier in the day by Steering Committee Member at Large Suzanne Guest, who is the Bakersfield City School District's McKinney-Vento (Homeless Family) Liaison.
Her concerns, as well as those of Steering Committee Homeless Consumer Member at Large Darold Christian, a GET Bus user, and Continuum of Care (CoC) Committee Chair and Bakersfield Homeless Center Executive Director Louis Gill, prompted the KCHC to request Steering Committee Chair Kim Albers, Executive Director of Flood Bakersfield Ministries, to write a letter to the GET Bus Board.
But Albers went beyond that and actually attended the meeting together with Gill, CoC Committee Secretary Carolann Wooton of Bakersfield Homeless Center, Homeless Consumers & Service Providers Committee Co-Chair Ana Vigil of Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Flood Case Manager Vicky Sykes, and Homelessness Project Manager Louis Medina of United Way of Kern County.
"I'm here to beg you," Albers pleaded passionately with the GET Bus Board, "there are many challenges that need to be addressed but if there is one change that needs to be made immediately, it's to bring back the bus stop in front of the Bakersfield Homeless Center."
Otherwise, she said, "You will have another fatality on Edison Highway," citing, as Gill and Wooton had done before her, the tragedies that claimed the lives of two homeless pedestrians in front of the Bakersfield Homeless Center within the last decade.
At this point, it is too early to tell whether the leadership of the Golden Empire Transit District will heed the pleas of concerned riders--including the homeless--and their advocates.
The Get Bus website, www.getbus.org, whose link has been added to the Resources page on our website, has an "About GET" page with a schedule of upcoming board meetings, and a "Contact Us" page that gives information about electronic or by-phone options for providing feedback. Also, according to Hayden, the website will feature a trip planning application expected to be launched on Friday, October 19.