R-Town and Jesus Center team up for downtown
Dale Dunlap, a homeless Chicoan who has hazel eyes and a shy demeanor, has a job for the first time in five years, thanks to a community crisis that produced what’s called the “Cleanup Brigade.”
On the morning of Nov. 12, this reporter caught up with Dunlap at Fourth and Main streets, as he meticulously swept pine needles from the sidewalk curb. He said something about being “ecstatic” to be part of the Brigade, but then reined in his emotions.
“It’s a good thing, and it gets me out,” Dunlap said. “It’s healthy. I feel more hopeful. One day at a time … we’ll see how this pans out.”
So far, the Cleanup Brigade seems to be panning out for everyone—the town, the four Jesus Center clients who were hired to work two hours a day, six days a week, and the R-Town Downtown Coalition that has funded the eight-week pilot cleanup program. Now the question is, can the program be sustained and expanded?
Dunlap, 43, and three other Jesus Center clients who were hired, began work Nov. 4. At 8 a.m. in downtown Chico, you’ll hear the roar of the leaf-blower manned by crew supervisor Jim Secola, a part-time Jesus Center staffer. His four workers wear neon-green nylon vests bearing the Jesus Center logo, and carry brooms, mops and cleaning solvents.
“A lot of people compliment us,” Dunlap said. “I haven’t heard a negative word yet.”
The Cleanup Brigade exemplifies how collaboration among community groups might produce programs that simultaneously keep people off the streets and serve the community. Dunlap hadn’t been loitering downtown, but he clearly needed a boost to reroute his life.
Dunlap worked in construction for many years, helping to build Chico’s Costco store as well as other structures. He hasn’t been employed since 2008, but said he’s been sober since 7:35 p.m., Feb. 3, 2003, when he attended his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and has used services at the Torres Community Shelter and Jesus Center to get his life back on track.
One of Dunlap’s goals is to get a roof over his head; at present, he sleeps outside at a location he doesn’t want to disclose. He says he keeps his distance from people who drink and use drugs.
Jesus Center Executive Director Bill Such said that, often, the clients these agencies work with resolve medical or other problems and want desperately to re-enter the workforce. “They might go to Home Depot and apply for a job that 150 other people are applying for,” Such said. “They’re not going to get that job.”
But Such said the Cleanup Brigade could easily be expanded to 15 or more people, who could clean up creeks and other parts of Chico. If 200 businesses contributed just $20 a month, a lot could be done, he noted. “This is an opportunity to get homeless people working cleaning up, instead of just saying they should move on or get a job.”
The R-Town Coalition is a group of business owners who raised money to tackle the problems created by an increasing number of homeless people and vagrants camping downtown. Such declined comment on the controversial use of private security guards.
When R-Town said it would offer some temporary employment to the homeless, Such said he knew the Jesus Center was in. He had proposed just such a program about one year earlier.
The Brigade has brought the Jesus Center group into contact with many business owners, community members and other homeless people, Secola said.
“We’re developing relationships with businesses,” Secola said happily, as he stood in a cloud of leaf-blower dust and greeted merchants. When he meets homeless folks, he directs them to the Jesus Center, a faith-based nonprofit that provides meals but is more than a soup kitchen, offering as well a women’s and children’s shelter, and resource and referral services.