Continuum of caring

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The Greater Chico Homeless Task Force meets the third Tuesday each month, 10 a.m.-noon, City Council Conference Room 1.

Someone I know is homeless. Not someone I know well—a professional acquaintance, whose path I cross once or twice a week—still, someone about whom I thought I knew the basics … until Monday, when I found out this individual has been seeking refuge in the Torres Shelter and meals at the Jesus Center.

That’s how I began my column of Feb. 5, which continued: This person doesn’t know I know (maybe not even after reading this column) and doesn’t know all the people who have rallied to help. Identities aren’t important. This isn’t about charity; it’s about community.

This person knows now … and, if you’ve read this issue’s cover story, now you know this person. I’m very proud of Serena Cervantes for sharing her story, for giving a face to homelessness—literally, on the cover.

Her account, plus other pieces related to the topic this week, prompted me to call Andy Holcombe to learn what Chico is doing to address this problem, which is only growing as the economy contracts.

Holcombe is a housing-rights attorney and the city councilman who chairs the Greater Chico Homeless Task Force. Around the time he became mayor in late 2006, enthusiasm began to bubble for a campground as a supplement to the shelter. What about now?

“The campground still comes up,” Holcombe told me, “but there was very little support or traction locally, at least officially.” Even though he likes the idea, he’d rather “work on things where I can make a difference.”

So, where’s the effort heading?

Three primary directions: coordination, outreach and attitude.

“Linking and coordinating services in an era of less public money is a big piece of the task force,” Holcombe said, noting as an example the pooling of resources by all five municipalities in Butte County for the Continuum of Care organization that, among other things, conducts the annual homelessness census.

Reaching out to members of the homeless population who do not seek out—or know about—services is another priority. Still another is awareness-raising, through programs such as a town hall meeting planned for incoming college freshmen and the city’s book in common (The Soloist, profiling a mentally ill musician discovered living on the streets of Los Angeles).

Plus, there’s what Holcombe calls “the attitudinal piece—there but by the grace of God go I. Homeless people are part of our community and need to be treated that way. That’s why I’m interested in the book in common and hope it opens eyes.”

The way I hope Serena’s story opens eyes. And hearts. And hands.

The homeless task force has about a dozen active members—there’s always room for more. If this issue touches you, please consider joining the cause.

Personal note

Loyal readers, I will be leaving the News & Review next week. My last day—July 3—happens to fall exactly three years and three months from when I came here as editor.

I’ll write a farewell column for next Thursday’s issue, the last under my watch. I might get a bit sentimental or chatty then. For now, just know that the ball of emotions spinning inside me does not include anger or bitterness.