Forgivable loans

There’s a million dollars’ worth of help for the homeless coming to Chico, unless the City Council does something really stupid and bends to the base prejudices of some folks who live north of Chico, just off The Esplanade. Seems The Chico Homeless Shelter and the Esplanade House transitional housing programs received a hefty shot of help last week, when they were told each had been given a $500,000 forgivable loan from the state. The loans from the Emergency Housing Assistance Fund are forgivable in the sense that they become grants once the program they assist has successfully operated for 10 years.

To qualify, the Chico Community Shelter Partnership, which runs the shelter, and the Community Action Agency, which runs the house, each had to provide such information as project cost estimates, overviews of the organizations, structure and staffing and “proof of site control,” said Tami Ritter, executive director for the CCSP, which has searched for years to find a site to build a permanent shelter. That site, on Whitman Avenue between Costco and the Silver Dollar Fairground, was purchased in February. The EHAF loan would go toward construction of the building, Ritter said. Groundbreaking could begin as early as this October, and Ritter said she hopes the shelter will be open before winter 2002.

The Esplanade House, which works in coordination with the shelter by providing transitional housing for those trying to climb out of homelessness, also has a site picked out for its move and expansion—a lot near the corner of Shasta Avenue and The Esplanade. However, neighbors have asked that the City Council hear an appeal to try to overturn the Planning Commission’s approval of the site. That could jeopardize the EHAF loan by destabilizing the Community Action Agency’s “proof of site control.” The council is slated to consider the merits of the appeal at its July 17 meeting. At this point it doesn’t seem the poor-folk-fearing neighbors have enough votes on the council to get the appeal. So it would appear—and I certainly don’t want to jinx anything—that we’re making giant strides in the right direction here when it comes to helping the homeless.

While we’re on the subject, I made a big mistake in a story I wrote in the June 28 issue about the efforts of the Esplanade House to secure the new site. In the caption next to the photo that accompanies the story “Esplanade House rules,” I used the word “transient” rather than “transitional” when describing what kind of housing the Esplanade House provides. I was called on it, though not by Mickey Taylor, the project coordinator for the Esplanade House who so graciously agreed to be in the photo. She laughed it off and referred to the photo as her “15 minutes of fame.”

I also got a call from Greg Webb, the developer who sits on the Esplanade House board of directors and is playing an instrumental role in the move. He pointed out that in my column of the same issue I said the new site was located at the corner of Lassen and The Esplanade, rather than Shasta and The Esplanade. In my defense let me say that I’m not the first to mix up those names. Way back in the mid 19th century, while leading a wagon train of pioneer families over the Sierra Nevada, Peter Lassen got the two mixed up, according to a history book I once read. Seems that one day he would head the train toward Lassen and the next day he’d change course and head toward Shasta. After a few days of grueling travel, some of the men, who’d caught on to Lassen’s confusion, threatened to hang their guide. They didn’t, of course, and Lassen went on to have one of the mountain landmarks and the county it sits in named after him.

As you read this, I am in New Orleans, probably enjoying the local cuisine with a Cajun McChicken sandwich at the McDonald’s on Bourbon Street. Then I’ll probably head over to the French Quarter to do some shopping at the new Wal-Mart. I figure the greeter there will say “Bonjour” when I walk in, and the Muzak will feature an airy version of Dr. John's "Such a Night." The next morning I’ll start my day right with a spicy coffee drink from the Starbucks on Canal Street. I just love traveling and exposing myself to new, exciting cultures. Don’t you?