A shelter in need

The Esplanade House faces budget cuts, appeals for volunteers

Tom Tenorio and Beth Porter of the Community Action Agency pose in front of the Esplanade House, which is restructuring its programs due to budget cuts.

Tom Tenorio and Beth Porter of the Community Action Agency pose in front of the Esplanade House, which is restructuring its programs due to budget cuts.


Help the Esplanade House:
Those interested in volunteering for the Family Advisor Program can call Lynne Bussey at 894-6789; for the Child Care Center, call Heather Whitacre at 895-6552, ext. 231. Charitable donations can be sent to Esplanade House Children’s Fund, P.O. Box 3251, Chico, CA 95927.

Homelessness has been an issue at the forefront of Chico’s collective consciousness for some time, a matter of debate from coffee joints to the City Council. And as Chicoans ponder how best to help homeless individuals and families get back on their feet, it can be easy to forget there are local programs already in place that have long worked toward answering that question.

Now, one of them is appealing to the community for help.

For two decades, the Esplanade House has provided a transitional shelter for local homeless families, promoting self-sufficiency through gainful employment and the pursuit of higher education. But budget cuts have hit the Esplanade House hard this holiday season.

“The state budget has slowly, incrementally reduced resources for subsidized child care,” said Tom Tenorio, executive director of the Community Action Agency of Butte County, which operates the Esplanade House. “So, we’ve been struggling. But we have to be able to continue providing quality child-care services so families can work through their program.”

Their greatest area of need is case management. During previous years, the Esplanade House has employed three case managers who regularly meet with families to provide guidance on financial and legal issues, or “just be there to support the family through the process,” said Beth Porter, program coordinator for the Community Action Agency. But with its own tight financial situation to consider, the Esplanade House can afford only one case manager to work with the 45 families currently under its care.

The case-manager role is critical to keeping families goal-oriented during their stay at the shelter, Tenorio explained.

“The whole concept here is that we provide these supportive services to help them lay out a plan for how they’re going to escape homelessness and stay that way,” he said. “They’re developing a program to change their life, yet they still need to be accountable and engaged with other folks. Some of them have had that engagement cut off from their support structures, so a case manager would fill that gap.”

As a result of the shortage, the Esplanade House has revived its Family Advisor Program, which relied on volunteers to assume the responsibilities of case managers during the shelter’s early days. According to an Esplanade House press release, family advisors will “adopt a parent or parents to provide them with emotional and spiritual support as they face the daily challenges involved with creating a new, healthy, self-sufficient life for themselves and their children.”

Porter said they hope for at least five volunteers, but if the community response is overwhelming they could find work for up to 15 individuals.

“We’re looking for established community members who can either share their experiences of being gainfully employed or with higher education,” Porter said. “They could do some coaching around what it feels like to go look for a job, how you can better prepare yourself for an interview, things of that nature.”

Also under financial pressure is the Child Development Center, a state licensed daycare facility for children with special needs. Many of the center’s charges are children who have been in and out of the foster-care system or have developmental problems due to exposure to drugs in the womb. As with the case-manager gap, the Esplanade House will seek out qualified volunteers and new sources of funding. But another option may be recruiting volunteers from the very families the shelter serves.

“Families who go through the Esplanade House are definitely challenged, and yet there is a willingness and interest to work with the program,” Tenorio said. “Everyone wants to know the care their children are getting is the best it can be.”

As for Butte County’s broader homelessness problem, Tenorio recognizes the Esplanade House represents only part of what needs to be a multi-faceted solution.

“From our perspective, homelessness is not a simple issue,” Tenorio said. “The homeless population is not a homogenous group. There are a lot of reasons for it, and the fact we only serve one segment here—families—means that it’s even more important other folks are helping focus attention on individuals too.”