BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Mercy House Brundage Lane Navigation Center will be expanding in the next week, adding more beds for unhoused people, and more kennels for their pets. Many homeless shelters do not allow pets, but BLNC is an exception.
"We originally had a capacity of 15 animals, but what we have seen in a lot of research is there is a significant need for more homeless shelter pet capacity, and so we increased our capacity from 15 kennels to 50," said Regional Director for Mercy House Theo Dues.
Dues says that homeless people depend on their pets more than anyone, because pets provide emotional support. BLNC wants to make sure that they aren't depriving their clients of that.
Stacy Kuwahara, Director of Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, agrees.
"Having more resources, number one, is wonderful, and having a resource that also allows you to bring your pet along is just something we really need right now while we are really working to build out housing and resources for those that are on the street," said Kuwahara.
Kuwahara says to people who are unhoused and may not have access to a social support structure, pets provide the day-to-day emotional interaction, as well as being a motivation to keep going and stay connected to a community.
The Bakersfield City Council approved the expansion of the Brundage Lane Navigation Center, which is set to open sometime this week. Not only will the kennel count increase, allowing for people with multiple pets, but Dues says they will also increase the bed count, along with medical shelter beds.
"The original number was 76 men. We have got to 109. The original number was 54 women. We have gone to 76. We also house couples here," said Dues. "There are many couples living on the streets and they won't separate from their partner in order to enter a shelter."
Dues adds that BLNC is aiming to get homeless people and their pets into permanent housing. In the time the navigation center has been open, it has helped more than 200 people to find permanent housing.
"This is an emergency shelter, but our goal is to get people out of the shelter and into permanent housing as quickly as possible because we believe that ultimately, there's only one solution to homelessness, and that's housing," said Dues.
If you or someone you know is in need of the Mercy House Brundage Lane Navigation Center's services, dial the United Way of Kern County at 2-1-1. There, you can get more information about the navigation center, as well as the process involved in moving your pets into the kennels.
IN-DEPTH: PETS, HOMELESSNESS, AND MENTAL HEALTH
Over the years, studies have shown that in order to address the homelessness crisis, community leaders must be willing to help both those living on the streets and the pets they keep with them.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, it's estimated that 12 percent of homeless adults own pets nationwide. Until recently, 48 percent of homeless pet owners reported being turned away from a shelter because of pet policies.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness also reports that 22 percent of homeless pet owners they surveyed said they avoided seeking out a shelter because they were worried their pets wouldn't be allowed to be with them.
Recent studies also show that despite what many may think, the pets of homeless individuals live happy lives, and that most homeless pet owners invest more of whatever resources they have into caring for their pets than they do into caring for themselves.