Louis Gill recognized that the occasion was auspicious enough to demand precisely the right words, and those words weren't coming. "You mind if I walk? It helps," he said, and he spun out of his chair to pace and compose. Except his office was so jammed with furniture and files, he couldn't do much more than pivot in a circle.

After seven years of limbo, the Bakersfield Homeless Center had finally been given the green light to move ahead with plans for a new, larger, more logically located shelter. The mix of joy, relief, excitement and determination that this realization inspired in him required succinct eloquence, and finding that eloquence required some mild calisthenics.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority had finally come to an agreement with the Homeless Center to purchase its 2.7 acre campus on East Truxtun Avenue: One day, not soon, the long-debated bullet train will plow right through Gill's office. Long before that happens, the homeless center's board of directors will have applied the $6 million purchase price to construction of a new homeless center with more beds, more programs, more elbow room and better access to services.

The location is not set in stone — a couple of BHC-owned sites are under consideration, or the board could purchase an entirely different one — but something will have to be nailed down soon if Gill's timeline is to be realized. The agreement with the Rail Authority allows the center to stay for five more years, but Gill would like to see construction on the new center begin within two years and a grand opening within three.

"We have unprecedented pain in the community from people suffering homelessness," Gill said. "And now we have a once in a generation opportunity to respond.

"We are not a community that stands by when people are hurting. We are a community that pulls together. And when somebody puts their hand up and says 'I need help,' people come. So I am very excited for us."

The agreement with the Rail Authority, finalized in October and announced Tuesday morning, ought to bring back community donations that had dried up in 2012 after the Rail Authority announced its intention, backed by the power of eminent domain, to buy the land. Why, the community seemed to say, should we donate for capital improvements if the campus will eventually be razed?

Community support becomes more important than ever, however. A new homeless center, of perhaps five acres, will cost substantially more than $6 million. Gill wasn't prepared to say how much more: He has no firm site plan upon which to base an estimate, although it could provide beds for 300 men, women and children, perhaps eventually expanding to as many as 350. The current shelter has room — barely — for about 200.

He and Homeless Center staff have been touring other shelters around the country for more than a year, looking at other campus plans and organizational structures, and Gill said the experience fed their collective outlook.

He was impressed with a shelter in Dallas called The Bridge and made note of campus layouts that placed buildings on the perimeter in order to create outdoor space in the center.

He also promised to rebuild the Homeless Center's organizational structure as part of the transition to the new campus.

"In order to meet the need in the community, we're not afraid to look at every part of our organization and restructure whatever is necessary," he said. "Being afraid to do something new only gets you the same problems."

The news comes at an impactful time in the region's quest to manage and minimize homelessness. Wednesday night the Bakersfield City Council will consider the placement of a so-called low barrier emergency homeless shelter on 7.5 acres of property at 1900 East Brundage Lane, which it had tentatively agreed to purchase for $3.83 million. Protests are expected at Wednesday night's council meeting.

Separately, Kern County Supervisors recently approved a low barrier homeless shelter at Golden State Highway and O Street with two buildings: one with 150 beds and the other for services and administration. The idea is to serve homeless people who typically do not, or cannot access traditional shelters.

Gill noted that the East Truxtun facility must continue to fully serve the needs of its temporary residents for three years, tempting as it might be to put away dollars exclusively for the new project.

"It's not like there's fewer people asking for assistance," he said. "... It's got to be hot showers, it's got to be hot meals, it's got to be clean laundry. There's just stuff that has to occur as we care for people now. But our focus will not be in dramatic changes to this campus. It will be on the next."

If Gill allows himself to dream about an office in which he can actually pace, that seems OK too.

This column was edited to reflect that the proposed sale to  the city of 7.5 acres of property at 1900 East Brundage Lane had not been finalized. 

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(13) comments

She Dee

Does Bakersfield currently have an emergency WINTER SHELTER? Many areas use their Armories for this by providing cots, government issued blankets, & donations of pre-made foods for the people checking into these temporary emergency winter shelters. It's all run by volunteers & some people who are doing their community service requirements under a court order mandate. Only a few of the Military Staff members are in the premises to keep a watch on the place. People get a ticket with a number on it & they must have a valid photo ID & sign in to sleep on a cot. There are no showers. Only toilets & sinks. No animals & no children were allowed at the ones that I went to years ago in other parts of California. No one gets to leave with the food & all trash is collected at the door before they leave. The blankets are placed into black trash bags, given a number & sealed & stored until the next night. If you forget your number, you don't get another new blanket. You have to use a dirty one or you might get lucky & get a clean one that a volunteer has taken home & washed. These blankets do fall apart. My 2 cents on the subject. It's cheaper to get people out of the cold compared to the cost of a hospital bill once they get pneumonia....or worse yet, hypothermia in the wet months!

Fram Smith

This could have turned into a sweetheart deal for the homeless in Bakersfield ; 2 shelters for the price of one. First , irrespective of your political beliefs , is there anyone reading this who thinks that the high speed rail will reach Bakersfield in 5 years ? A more realistic time line would be 10 years , maybe more. And during all that time , the city will rent the current location back . ln a year or so , we could have had a new homeless center in a near perfect location.There would appear to be a prerequisite to building any new homeless shelter in Bakersfield ; replacing the city council.


" . . . so-called low barrier emergency homeless shelter . . . "

(Sanctuary) . . . low barrier detention center . . .

Bobbie . . . call it like it is . . . as another 'story' rebounds over and over.


AND . . . not only that . . . there was NO "Quid Pro Quo" . . . !


Out at the Calcot property there are those huge cotton sheds that are already de facto homeless shelters. And they even have water.

Miss Milis

Those cotton warehouses aren't part of the deal.


Terrific- 150 beds on Golden State. 200 in E. Truxton. And looks like at least 300-600 at E Brundage. With Truxton re-location bump in another 150

So 1,000 beds. Over a couple of years pat yourself on the back KC. Job well done

Who would protest vs a shelter off Cottonwood Road and Brundage?! It’s a wasteland. Suspicious eye on anyone against. Lol. They got ulterior $ motives. Watch Council voting very closely for forked-tongued okey-Dokey jack-move to benefit old boy network.


I read about a guy complaining, but in all honesty he makes a good point. They have a school right next to where they’re proposing to build this new facility. Politically correct or not, many of the people who will be inhabiting the facility are not known for their clean living and upstanding behaviors

Miss Milis

The school "right next" is a mile away.


I agree with Stephen on this one. I sent this this idea two different times to Karen “All Show and No” Goh when she was the District 5 Sup, back when homelessness was a problem but not to the degree it is now. No response either time, none. I didn’t even try with Leticia Perez, I’ll just leave it at that. Not only is there municipal water but there are sewage lines throughout. Even one of these buildings could be turned into a an area of shelter for a large amount of people at a very low cost. Freeway access for services. Seemed like a no brainer, and still does.


Yeah... sure you did.

Everybody knows that if you send an “idea” to a public official it gets filed i the trash can. Everyone knows that. Never heard all of these wonderful ideas at Board of Supervisors or City Council meetings. Now it was all your master plan? Ummm. Ok


I usually ignore your disjointed ramblings these days, but I was there in 2011 about this, but I guess that must of been the only day you weren’t there. Oh that’s right you never have been. The home staff need to take your computer away and give you your meds for the day, it’s visiting day.


I’d like to compliment MrKnowitall. His posts reverberate with wisdom and good taste. ( just a lil well-deserved pat on the back to myself for my contributions to the community). Lol

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