By Allie Castro
Louis Gill may not have followed in his family’s business, but he’s still a bona fide family man. And although he is not a Bakersfield native, this is where he plans to stay.
While growing up on his family’s cattle farm in Springville, Calif., Gill made an important discovery about himself.
“I found out I like people more than I like cattle. Nothing against livestock, but I found that I wanted to work with people, to serve people,” said Gill with a laugh.
This was the realization that eventually led to his current position as executive director of the Bakersfield Homeless Center and the Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault.
When he graduated from high school, Gill moved to Mexico City and he spent a year as a foreign exchange student living with a host family, reveling in the Latin culture and learning the native language. After living in such a big city, returning to Springville — population 1,000 — was not going to be easy. So Gill took his newfound interests to the Bay Area where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish followed by his master’s in nonprofit administration at the University of San Francisco. More importantly, though, San Francisco was where he met his wife, Kate.
After the couple had their three children — son Nolan and twin daughters Kiera and Bridget — he and Kate realized they wanted to be closer to family, so they headed south to Porterville. But after four years of a long commute to work, they finally settled in Bakersfield, where Gill took his current role at the Bakersfield Homeless Center.
Now in his 13th year as executive director, both organizations have undergone some major changes during his tenure. When he first started, the homeless center was “focused on a stereotypical homeless person, which is a single, chemically dependent male who is mentally ill and has a shopping cart,” he said. “We’ve completely gone from ‘three hots and a cot’ to wanting to give people help with the root causes of homelessness. …”
This turnaround was a result of the collaboration between the center and the Bakersfield Rescue Mission. The two organizations found a way to complement each other, with the rescue mission focusing on the single homeless men, and the homeless center focusing on families and single parents. The center now has 174 beds, and makes sure each person has the opportunity to get clean, receive new clothes, eat a hot meal and send their kids to school. The center also works with the parents to figure out what brought them there and how the center can help get the family stabilized, get the parents earning an income and makes sure the family is back in stable housing.
The Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault has also made strides under Gill’s direction. When he first took over, the Alliance was run separately from the center. However, Gill said the organizations realized they could share the same administration to help manage expenses, as well as develop an outstanding team with longevity. Since the merger occurred in 2006, the Alliance has dramatically expanded its clinical services to aid those who come to the organization in a crisis.
“They [counselors] sit with people that have been through horrible experiences and help them heal, so that their past doesn’t define their future,” Gill said.
The tremendous growth in both organizations can be attributed to Gill and his staff’s determination to think differently and ensure that those who need help get exactly what they need.
“We’re talking about people’s lives. Absolutely no human being is a throwaway. Every human being deserves respect and compassion,” he said.
For Gill, looking at the problem differently means waking up every day around 4:30 a.m. to check emails and the news. On good days he heads to the gym, then helps get his kids ready for school, and is in the office by 8:30 a.m. The consummate giver, Gill praises his staff highly, and credits their extreme compassion for the center’s growth and success.
When he’s not in the office, you can find Gill with his family, who are all diehard San Francisco Giants fans and members of St. Francis Parish. His ideal evening: Being at home with his family and laughing around the dinner table.
To say he’s found his professional calling isn’t quite enough; what Gill does goes far beyond the typical eight-hour job. When asked where he sees himself in the next 10 years, without missing a beat, he said, “I’m going to be right behind this desk. I get up in the morning and say, ‘Yes sir, I’m willing, here we go.’”
How to help
For those who want to volunteer or make a donation, especially with the holidays approaching, Gill said the center is always in need of food donations. Visit bakhc.org or www.kernalliance.org to find out how to help.