A welcome home?

Base Camp Village transitional facility could house mentally ill in Thermalito

Ron Reed talks about his proposed transitional housing facility.

Ron Reed talks about his proposed transitional housing facility.

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Public hearing:
The Butte County Planning Commission will consider Base Camp Village on July 26 at 9 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors chambers. For email updates, sign up at tinyurl.com/ddsemails.

Ron Reed already can envision how the grassy 4.4-acre lot at 1240 10th St. in Thermalito will be transformed to help the most vulnerable people living in Butte County.

A courtyard will connect studio apartments—places of pride and security for 28 people previously living on the streets and battling mental illness. The periphery will include a tranquil fish pond and garden, horseshoe pits and a basketball court.

The complex will include a dining hall, a workshop where residents can learn basic skills for living on their own and a counseling center. Eventually, they’ll move on from the transitional care facility, called Base Camp Village, to be reunited with their families or forge their own paths forward, healthier and happier. Then, more residents will be welcomed.

Tenth Street travels through a quiet residential neighborhood, with the lot planned for Base Camp Village just down the road from a few modest neighborhood churches, an elementary school, a gated suburb and Oroville Wildlife Area.

For Reed, a defense attorney, this is a passion project. He has called Butte County home for 40 years, and as a volunteer and supporter of Stairways Programming, he has seen the difference the nonprofit has made for those living at its transitional housing facility in Chico. It’s his goal to replicate the housing-first, harm-reduction model used by Stairways.

Neighbors are deeply concerned, however. Reed has been skewered with questions and accusations during multiple public neighborhood meetings, the most recent on Tuesday (June 12) at Nelson Avenue Middle School.

“We’re not really doing a good job taking care of the mentally ill,” Reed told attendees, citing the point-in-time census statistic that 30 percent of the 1,983 homeless people in Butte County are grappling with mental health issues. “I want to help, and I’m really touched when I listen to somebody say, ‘We want to help.’ I think that’s the true spirit of people in Thermalito.”

That true spirit seems to be getting lost in translation, however.

County staff tried to provide crowd control from the start, with a full agenda and email sign-up list at the door, and multiple officials emphasizing the value of listening and respect.

No decisions were going to be made that night, said Tim Snellings, director of Development Services, so “the pressure’s off.”

“Everybody can just kind of take a deep breath,” Snellings encouraged, inhaling and exhaling calmly into the microphone. The audience, packed onto the bleachers of the gymnasium, remained stone-faced.

Staff took audience questions on index cards, which Supervisor Steve Lambert asked of Reed. But that didn’t prevent folks from speaking up, their voices often echoing off the gymnasium walls.

“How come they didn’t send letters out so the poor people would know what’s going on?” one man shouted out early in the meeting. “I don’t get the paper, and I don’t have a computer.”

County officials replied that the formal notice to nearby residents would soon be sent, and instead of sticking with the 300-foot radius required by law, the county would be extending it to everyone within half a mile.

Few things seemed to be agreed upon. Neighbors asked questions about security, their property values and project details. One woman said she agrees homeless people need help, but that a residential neighborhood was not a good location.

For Reed, however, that’s the whole point: not segregating people, but instead integrating them, making them feel welcome.

Michael Madieros, director of Stairways, told the CN&R that Base Camp Village will provide people with an opportunity to “transition from the streets, from basically your problem to your neighbor.”

Robert Mullins argued during the meeting that the project would become a prison. Afterward, he told the CN&R he has reservations about Base Camp Village because of personal negative experiences with Stairways. “A bad seed does not put forth good fruit,” he said.

Reed said the project will not attract homeless people to the neighborhood—it will be a residence. He intends to work with Butte County Behavioral Health and only accept its referrals.

Those who live there will have to have an income, most likely Supplemental Security Income, and pay a portion per month for their home and food ($700 is the base figure Reed has provided). The facility will operate as a nonprofit, with eight to 10 clinical and support staff, and someone there 24 hours a day.

Meda Seely shared with the attendees that she had visited Stairways earlier that day and was impressed with how clean and neat it was. “Everybody I met was so happy to be there,” Seely told the CN&R later. As she reflected on the time she spent there, spurred by Madieros’ invitation at the last community meeting, she started tearing up. If a program like that had been around the Oroville area previously, it would have really helped her brother when he was homeless, she said.

“[People] see this as a threat because it’s something new. They’re just not stopping to think. We really need to help these people,” she said. “We have to start somewhere.”