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After COVID scare, Brundage Lane Navigation Center sees bright future ahead

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The Brundage Lane Navigation Center in east Bakersfield is seen in this file photo.

The Brundage Lane Navigation Center says a coronavirus scare that forced intakes to be halted for two weeks could have been far worse. The homeless shelter has resumed normal operations, and hopes to quickly fill the beds that were given up by individuals who left while the outbreak was taking place.

“Based on the proactive measures — testing, quarantine and mask mandating — we got over the outbreak what seemed to me very quickly,” said Brundage Lane Program Manager Theo Dues.

He added that many people are now anxious to get back into the shelter following the quarantine.

“Even many of those who self exited during the shelter-in-place have asked now to return,” he said. “They recognized they made impulsive, probably irrational decisions, and they are seeking reentry, and we will gladly welcome every one of them back.”

One of four homeless shelters in Bakersfield, the Brundage Lane Navigation Center first identified a positive COVID-19 case the week of Aug. 15. More cases were quickly identified until a total of 10 guests and eight staffers tested positive for the virus.

A mask mandate was established for everyone in the building, and an isolation room was set up for those who were ill. In addition, the shelter stopped allowing residents to freely enter and exit, requiring all guests to quarantine for 10 days. Those who did not wish to comply were not allowed to come back during the quarantine if they left.

In total, about 35 people left the shelter, dropping the number of guests to around 100.

“One of the most challenging things for any shelter or navigation center operator is when you restrict somebody’s movement like that, it gets real frustrating real quickly,” said Larry Haynes, CEO of Mercy House, which operates Brundage Lane for the city of Bakersfield. “The reason you do that is to err on the side of public health.”

Since the end of quarantine on Aug. 31, the shelter’s population has rebounded to around 115 and Brundage Lane operators hope to turn attention to the good work being done at the facility.

From Oct. 6 to Aug. 15, Brundage Lane served 686 clients, according to a recent presentation made to the Bakersfield City Council. Seventy-four people have been placed into permanent housing, while an additional 23 have been connected to services such as skilled nursing centers or sober living facilities. All those living in the shelter are working on housing stability plans.

Although many guests self exit, Dues said Brundage Lane had experienced remarkable success since it opened last year, and was working to understand why some people exited before finishing their housing plans.

Still, the lack of public notice about the outbreak raised red flags for at least one Bakersfield resident.

“It’s not good government to keep health and safety issues like this from the public,” said former Bakersfield City Councilman and open government advocate Mark Salvaggio. “They need to be seen in the light of day. I mean, this COVID-19 virus is no small thing. We’ve lost 1,486 lives as of this morning in Kern County.”

But city spokesman Joe Conroy said the city never considered informing local media outlets of the outbreak.

“We’ve been transparent on the COVID issue at the BLNC, and we followed all reporting protocols,” he said. “It’s just not common practice to put out a press release on something like this.”

Homeless mitigation efforts like the city’s rapid response teams were not impacted by the quarantine, he added. Individuals who would have been admitted to Brundage Lane were instead diverted to other local shelters during the two weeks the navigation center was not accepting new intakes.

Looking forward, the city has begun considering expanding the facility to increase capacity. The facility has hit maximum capacity several times, and a homeless outreach organization contracted by the city to refer people to Brundage Lane has an active waiting list.

Brundage Lane organizers see themselves as well positioned to handle an additional client list even in a pandemic that has yet to subside.

“The fact that we had 10 positive residents in the shelter was difficult, mostly for the guests who tested positive,” Dues said. “The story is, these people were sheltered and they were cared for and they were loved during a difficult time in their life.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.