After providing homes for thousands of people with no place to go for more than 20 years, Griffin’s Gate in east Bakersfield will soon be closing.
The understated residential house, which the nonprofit Casa de Amigos has operated on a historic property on Monterey Street since 1999, will close on Friday. Its founders say providing the service has become unaffordable as funding has dried up.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” said Jack Hendrix, who founded Griffin’s Gate with his adopted son Pepe after retiring as a teacher at East Bakersfield High School. âThat was the difficult part of the decision to close the doors because there were still people who needed this place, but we can’t provide it anymore just because we don’t have the money. “
Griffin’s Gate served as a place of refuge for people with addiction and mental health issues, parolees, and people who needed medical attention after a hospital stay but lacked a place to receive this care. The association has used contracts with organizations like Kern Behavioral Health and Kern Medical Center to stay afloat, but organizers now say those contracts are no longer available.
At a time when homelessness appears to be at its peak in Kern County history, the community is losing one of the few places ready to welcome people.
âWe have helped a lot of people in the community,â said Pepe. âI am sad that we are closing. I really like this kind of work.
One of the people Griffin’s Gate has helped is Hal Joyner. Around 2002, he was addicted to methamphetamine and on his way to jail. Instead, he ended up staying on the Monterey Street estate for three years as he got his life back on track.
He now occupies the position of house manager, a position which will expire at the end of the year.
âI made a lot of good friends,â he said. âI am still friends with a lot of them. I watched the changes he made in people’s lives.
Reyes Gamino, one of the last residents of the house, reflected on his stay at Griffin’s Gate on Monday afternoon.
âI feel good here,â he said. âI’m still pretty young and I don’t like to be a burden on anyone. Here I can still live a semi-normal life.
Gamino first stayed on the property in 2019 after being hospitalized with complications from congenital heart disease. After leaving the county, he returned after his ex-wife died of coronavirus last month.
He is now looking for a place to live with his children and will be allowed to stay on the property until he is successful.
âTo find real hearts like that is difficult,â he said of the Griffin’s Gate operators. “It’s more of a house than anything else.”
The home is known for much more than its work with the homeless and disadvantaged. Built in the late 1800s by a major Italian immigrant, it is known as one of the oldest houses in Kern County.
Hendrix plans to rent the house to tenants until he decides to sell the property. He said he started the house to provide him with an activity when he retired, and since he wasn’t golfing it was the right thing to do.
It’s been over 20 years since the doors to this historic home were opened for charity, and after such a long time it can be hard to know what to do next.
âPeople were like, ‘Why are you wasting your time with these people? They’ll never do anything, âHendrix said. âI have always been an optimist. I felt like people needed a chance sometimes. They needed a place to rise.
He described the closure as frustrating and fondly recalled the time he spent leading the operation.
âOver the years,â he added, âwe’ve had a lot of people come and see if we’re still here and tell us they’re grateful to have a place to be.â
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You can also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.