The program ran for about six months and ended at the beginning of November.
“The reason it ended was because it was a pilot program,” said Bob Bell, chairman of Downtown Bakersfield Development Corp. “We wanted to see putting a couple of folks on the streets from the homeless center. They employed them, they worked with them in doing all kinds of community things.”
The Lake Foundation funded the pilot program, and now the groups involved are working on bringing it back.
There were two Street Ambassadors for the pilot. Their jobs included landscaping, cleaning up downtown and an outreach program that helped connect other people in the community who were experiencing homelessness to resources.
“Our ideas was to do more than just clean streets,” Bell said. “We really wanted to effect a couple of problem areas that we knew after the ‘no pan handling’ was passed in our community. We knew some people were still on the street.”
As part of the pilot program, two men from homeless shelters were given the opportunity to make a difference in the community, while making money to help them get back on their feet.
James Pederson and Shawn McConnell cleaned up freeways and downtown.
They also made connections within the community, acting as a helping hand for other people who were experiencing homelessness.
“Who better than to help them and affect them than maybe people that had graduated here from the homeless shelter or from the mission, who had been in the mentorship program by Garden Pathways,” Bell said. “Those men and women would have a better knowledge, so let’s employ them, let’s give them an opportunity to do good things. They’re going to be able to communicate to these people in need, and they are also going to be able to make quick friends with business owners and property owners.”
Bell said Pederson and McConnell did all of that and more during the pilot program.
“They immediately understood that all these property and business owners downtown were part of them, so they just started relationships unlike we even expected,” Bell said. “They really had a great time together. They accomplished more work than we could ever have wanted.”
Both Pederson and McConnell were getting help from homeless shelters before becoming ambassadors. They said it was their work ethic that keeps them busy even after the pilot program ended.
“Being on the streets is nothing nice,” McConnell said. “This gives them a change to show them some kind of, I don’t know what to say, I guess skills, you know, and to get off their feet and get out of the streets.”
Although the pilot program ended, the two are still employed. They currently work on projects that are set up by the Bakersfield Homeless Center.
During the week, Pederson and McConnell are busy picking up trash, landscaping and continuing to improve the community. They get paid, and this had made it possible for both of them to transition out of homelessness. Bell said that is the goal of the program.
“Helping the community out is awesome. You know, you can see the change,” Pederson said.
Bell plans for the program to start back up again in January 2018, but he hopes people in the community will step up and help finance before then. Bell said it costs about $50,000 a year to fund the Street Ambassador Program.
“It encourages them, you know, they see where you came from and where you’re at now and it gives them hope,” Pederson said. “You never know what they’re going through or anything like that, so don’t be judgmental. Give them a helping hand, and let them know there is help out there.”