We’re honored to have brilliant, dedicated Black leaders working to end homelessness in Built for Zero communities around the country. This month, we recognize some of the Black leaders in the movement to end homelessness.
For more than 16 years, Mary Scott has been working with people experiencing homelessness. Today she’s an Administrative Analyst for the Bakersfield Homeless Center in Bakersfield, California. She was part of the community-wide team that reached functional zero for chronic homelessness in 2020 — making Bakersfield/Kern County the first place in California to have reached this milestone.
What are you working on?
Mary Scott: The Bakersfield Homeless Center is partnering with Kern Bakersfield Homeless Regional Collaborative and access points of the Coordinated Entry System to start a Diversion Program in Kern County to assist households with flexible short-term intervention and rapid resolution to overcome their housing crisis and avoid the homeless response system.
The Diversion Program is a strategy that addresses and prevents homelessness by helping households seeking shelter and housing solutions to maintain stable housing or an alternative housing arrangement.
Why is diversion important?
Diversion is important because it allows us to get ahead of the crisis. Our system has been designed to be reactive and diversion is a proactive response. This strategy will give people experiencing a housing crisis a solution at the time of engagement and even prevent some people from experiencing homelessness.
“All of us as providers are passionate about our fight to end homelessness, but until we recognize that racism and homelessness go hand in hand, we will not be able to solve the root causes of homelessness.”Mary Scott
How is your community working to address racial equity within their homeless system?
Kern County’s Continuum of Care (CoC) is progressively working toward ending homelessness one of its initiatives. The Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee was created to address racial equity within their homeless system.
The DEI Committee meets once a month to engage the community in networking opportunities and educating CoC and non-CoC Organizations in advancing racial equity in the homeless service system. The DEI Committee has participated in making equitable changes in the Kern County’s Homeless System — identifying disparities and providing educational solutions and resources to service providers.
I am working with the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee as an Outreach Advisor to engage CoC and Non-CoC Organizations to collaborate and engage with our underserved communities.
The community engagement and outreach allows the collaborative strategic insight to provide education to our service providers and recommend equitable policies and practices for individuals experiencing homelessness and our underserved community.
Why is this work important in your broader efforts to end homelessness?
The trauma of homelessness is different for different people. How they are able to access the systems of care will determine how long they will have to endure that trauma. When we educate our service providers about equity and providing equitable resources, the policies and practices can become equitable. What appears obvious to some people will not be obvious to others. Without the conversations, the truly difficult conversations, we cannot create the change for people who are receiving services from our homeless system.
What do people need to understand about racism and homelessness?
Racism is harmful, it is hurtful, and it ultimately creates systems that are unfair. It is one of the most uncomfortable subjects to identify and discuss in my professional life.
We must honestly acknowledge that not everyone receives the same level of service or is able to access the system equally. All of us as providers are passionate about our fight to end homelessness, but until we recognize that racism and homelessness go hand in hand, we will not be able to solve the root causes of homelessness.