High stakes

Will organizations step up to shelter homeless folks, given that six were found dead on the streets in 2019?

Chico is home to at least 50 churches and a handful of other houses of worship. I looked into it when I found out that Safe Space Winter Shelter closed for a week—that none of the religious organizations in town had opened their doors to homeless folks here in the dead of winter.

In case you missed it, the CN&R reported last Thursday (Jan. 30) that the seasonal shelter was in desperate need of facilities to accommodate the roughly 60 people who seek out Safe Space this time of year. Ashiah Scharaga’s excellent piece (see “Closure imminent,” Newslines) underscored the urgency of the situation. It also got to the heart of the matter—how having a warm, secure bed is probably quite literally a life-saver.

Consider that at least six people died while unsheltered in 2019—that is, authorities picked up the bodies of half a dozen citizens from our streets, sidewalks and creeksides last year.

Speaking of that disturbing statistic, I owe a belated thank you to Chico’s police chief, Mike O’Brien, for a change within his department related to reports of individuals found deceased in those aforementioned locations.

Regular readers may recall that I lamented finding out about such deaths through word of mouth (see “Deadly status quo,” June 6), noting how back in the day the police would alert the press on what used to be rare occasions.

After reading those comments, O’Brien invited me to the Chico Police Department to discuss the issue. There, the 28-year CPD veteran and his deputy chief listened to me talk about the importance of informing the local press and thus the public on this matter. Making my case was simple: It’s imperative that we have conversations about this crisis—and what it means for our community, for society—so that we can respond to it.

O’Brien got it. Case in point: CPD’s analyst compiled a list that included two deaths I hadn’t heard about, and officers thereafter began informing our reporters and the rest of the local media.

Fast-forward to last Thursday. The same day our story about Safe Space hit the stands, Redding-based KRCR TV also ran a segment on the potential for a mid-season closure. The next day, the Enterprise-Record followed up with a short piece as well.

Despite the thorough exposure, nobody in the City of Trees welcomed the destitute.

I want to commend the organizations that already allow the seasonal shelter to use their facilities. And, sure, I understand that not all houses of worship can take in that many people. But for those that are able, please don’t look away. This message also goes out to Chico State. The university may not be charged with such ecclesiastical labors, but let’s not forget that President Gayle Hutchinson is largely responsible for hammering the proverbial final nail in the coffin of Safe Space’s plan to open a facility near the campus (see “NIMBY cowardice,” Second & Flume, May 30).

But I digress, and the urgency remains. The shelter reopens on Sunday (Feb. 9), but two weeks later, it will be without a home once again. Now is the time for organizations to step up. No excuses because what’s at stake is clear.