Chicoans lend helping hands
Local groups reach out to the homeless
Mike Yankoski knows the impact local shelters and relief efforts can have on the homeless—and he encourages people who believe in charitable works to practice what they preach.
“Actually help at places like the Jesus Center; looking people in the eyes can restore the humanity in homeless people,” Yankoski, author of the book Under the Overpass, said at the Chico facility’s 25th anniversary celebration. “If you believe in something, you have to live it out.”
Yankoski did just that for five months in six American cities. He immersed himself with the homeless by taking six months off school to live on the streets with his friend Sam.
At the anniversary dinner April 27, Yankoski relayed how he felt on the streets: “Twenty-four hours is such a long period of time when you have nothing to do. It was humiliating sitting on the ground while people walked by pretending we didn’t exist.”
Yankoski said he’s “amazed with the amount of community involvement in and around Chico,” but the Jesus Center must continue to work hard and the community even harder to help those in need.
The Jesus Center runs solely on donations to serve meals twice daily six days a week along with several other services including haircuts, showers and shelter for women and children at the Sabbath House located inside the center, Office Manager Donna Aro said.
“We even have a mail service so that people can stay connected with their families,” Aro said.
Breakfast is served 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and a second meal is served 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Wayne Owen has lived on the streets since 2001; he uses the shelter all six days a week it is open.
“I eat twice a day at the Jesus Center, and I shower there every other day,” Owen said.
Melissa Wadle, 21, is a Chico State student who has worked at the Jesus Center as part of a class. “Our project was to learn about the community agencies that serve people here in Chico,” Wadle said.
She said there’s a lot the community has to offer; the tough part is connecting people with the resources. Assessing the situation of Chico’s homeless, Wadle said, “The community is lacking housing here for the low-income people.”
Noted Patrick Clark, service coordinator at the Torres Community Shelter: “There’s places like The Esplanade House, run by the Community Action Agency, that offer transitional housing for families, but it’s hard if the families in Chico don’t have houses to transition to.”
The Torres Shelter opened its dormitory in 2003. Money from federal grants will help fund the building of a new addition that will include more family rooms, conference rooms, drop-in day services, a medical clinic with an on-site doctor and kennels with heating lamps. The addition will sit right behind the current shelter, Clark said.
“The shelter will have several new amenities and will be able to help many more people,” Clark said. “For instance, many homeless people have dogs for companions and don’t use the shelter because they don’t want to leave their dogs; soon they’ll be able to bring their dogs here, and they’ll [the homeless and their dogs] have a place to sleep.”
As it is now, the shelter has the capacity to hold 156 guests a night. There is a women and children’s wing separated by the lobby from the much larger men’s wing. The needy check in daily between 5 and 6 p.m., and the shelter’s services are free of charge.
Clark said he thinks there are enough services in Butte County to help people get on the right track; it just takes work from the programs and the people using the services.—Bryce Benson