City Council

Shelter gets fiscal fix-up

At one point during the Chico City Council meeting Tuesday (March 18), Mayor Andy Holcombe told of attending a countywide meeting on homelessness at which he heard a participant, not a Chico resident, say, “We don’t have a problem with the homeless because the police bring them to the shelter and drop them off.”

The anecdote illuminates a harsh reality: Chico has the only homeless shelter in the region, but none of the other cities and counties whose residents use its services contribute to it financially.

That’s part of the reason the Torres Community Shelter is struggling financially, and also why its executive director, Corla Bertrand, appeared before the council to ask that it approve an emergency allocation of $10,000 to tide the shelter over until the end of the fiscal year.

Councilmembers spent quite a while talking about the shelter’s problems and warning Bertrand that the allocation was a one-time deal.

“I think we need to be really honest and clear and need to make sure everyone understands that community-organization funding is limited,” Councilwoman Mary Flynn, a co-founder of the shelter, told Bertrand.

The council also wanted other service groups funded by the city to understand that the allocation was unique because it came from Community Development Block Grant funding previously allocated for shelter expansion. In other words, the shelter was shifting capital funds into operations.

The shelter’s financial problem is due primarily to a 30 percent decline in funding from the Federal Emergency Shelter Grant Program (FESG), its primary source of income. That has resulted in a $40,000 annual budget shortfall, despite the shelter’s diligent efforts to raise private funding.

Questioning from councilmembers elicited that the shelter receives no funding from the county. “Have the other cities been asked to help?” Flynn asked.

“They’ve been asked, but it wasn’t successful,” Bertrand replied.

Councilman Tom Nickell asked whether Bertrand had talked with Rep. Wally Herger and Assemblyman Rick Keene. Yes, Bertrand replied, “but they didn’t say they would help.”

One person who addressed the council, insurance agent Michael Reilley, warned, “We’re in a recession and the shelter is not going to get more funding, plus we’re going to see a lot more homeless because of the economy.” He said it was important for groups like the Torres Shelter to have long-range plans that take into account what they’ll do when their funding gets cut.

Flynn responded by noting that the shelter had gotten together a strong new advisory committee to generate fundraising ideas. In a letter to the city, Bertrand noted the group included such notables as former City Manager Tom Lando, Police Chief Bruce Hagerty, Tom DiGiovanni of New Urban Builders and others.

The allocation was approved 6-0, with vice Mayor Ann Schwab absent.