Despite facing a long learning curve, the city of Bakersfield is reporting success at its new homeless shelter after about a month of operation.
As of Wednesday, the Brundage Lane Navigation Center held 61 men and women, including five couples. Although several birthday parties have been held — some of which appear to be the first celebrations in quite some time for the clients — the city says the most important news to come out of the new facility is that four permanent housing placements have already taken place.
“That is really what matters,” said Larry Haynes, CEO of Mercy House, which operates the homeless center for the city, along with other shelters throughout California. “I know for us at Mercy House, even though we’re talking about shelter, really the endgame for us here and in all of our work is permanent housing.”
He said it was “unheard of” for four housing placements to take place this early in the life of a shelter.
“I really am very much surprised that there have already been some permanent housing placements,” he continued.
Opening in late October, the 67,681-square-foot facility is meant to ease the burden on Bakersfield’s overwhelmed social safety net. The city spent $4.9 million to purchase the former Calcot Ltd. corporate headquarters with the intent to transform it into an all-encompassing site to connect people with the services they need.
Designed with the intent to take in those who have otherwise avoided local shelters because of restrictions on pets and gender, Brundage Lane has already shown signs that it is working as intended. True to its mission, 11 pets were being held at the site, the city reported.
As the staff works out the kinks in the operation's first month, Haynes said it was only a matter of time before the shelter reached its full capacity.
“We’re just getting started,” he said. “(The shelter) is meeting or exceeding expectations and there is a lot of good yet to come. The ceiling is still pretty high in terms of how we all move forward together.”
In another part of town, another homeless shelter is also reporting good news. The Mission at Kern County, which provides shelter for over 200 men on a daily basis, is “89%” done with a 40-bed expansion project.
To Mission Executive Director Carlos Baldovinos, the expansion is more than just about offering more beds to those who need one.
“It all starts with a night’s sleep and a meal. All of us humans are looking for stability and a person that’s off the streets hasn’t been stable,” he said. “It’s not just beds. It’s the human side of things, where I can give an opportunity for a person to get their life back on track.”
Discussed since 2018, the expansion had to go through a redesign that delayed its completion. The current iteration broke ground in July, and has stayed on track despite coronavirus limitations.
“We’re excited about it,” Baldovinos said. “Especially with this rise of homelessness that we’ve had. And then you have COVID on top of it. It’s going to help a lot of people.”
The Mission hopes to finish the project by Christmas to open the expansion sometime in January.