A piece of the puzzle

The Torres Shelter’s wet program will serve an underserved segment of the homeless population

We learned Tuesday that the Torres Community Shelter is for the first time operating a wet shelter program at its current facility in south Chico. This is by far the best news we’ve heard all week.

Wet shelters and programs are growing in numbers around the nation as homeless advocacy groups adopt the philosophies of the harm-reduction/housing-first models. The idea is fairly simple: Provide homeless people with housing immediately, and then provide the services that focus on keeping them healthy, such as help for substance abuse and mental illness.

Think for a moment about what life on the streets is like for people who are sober. We know how hard it is from the stories we’ve told in CN&R over the years. Now think about what it’s like for those without sobriety and those with debilitating mental illness. It’s not hard to imagine how these issues would make the transition from the streets to stable housing exceedingly difficult.

We understand that the harm-reduction/housing-first models are controversial, but when it comes to helping solve the homeless crisis, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Indeed, many organizations have had success with programs that include a sobriety prerequisite. However, those programs are simply not suitable for a certain segment of the homeless population.

There is another year-round local organization—Stairways—serving as a wet shelter, but there’s still an underserved segment of the community. That why it’s a big deal that the Torres Shelter, Chico’s largest and oldest emergency shelter, has taken on the cause. The facility has been around for nearly two decades, including the years it was housed in churches around town, and has operated at its standalone facility on Silver Dollar Way for the last 13. It is our community’s preeminent homeless-helping organization.

It appears from early results of the Torres Shelter’s foray into harm-reduction/housing first that such a program will be successful (see Ken Smith’s report on page 9). Already, there’s no doubt that it’s another piece of the puzzle when it comes to tackling local homelessness.