Home for the homeless unveiled

One of the hand-painted tiles in the spacious shower of Chico’s first homeless shelter sums up volunteers’ secret of success: “Think good thoughts.”

Good thoughts and hard work resulted March 2 in the grand opening of the Torres Community Shelter on Whitman Avenue.

“We have the capacity for about 150,” beamed Tami Ritter, executive director for the Chico Community Shelter Partnership, as she showed visitors through family living quarters, a laundry room, a warming kitchen and spacious showers. The CCSP secured a $500,000 grant and $160,000 in private donations for the shelter, which has been five years in the making. It will open to guests in mid-March.

“We really tried hard to get a lot of community energy into the building,” said Mary Flynn, president of the CCSP board. Dozens of local businesses donated supplies and expertise, and as hundreds of people toured the shelter last Sunday, they signed up to donate $30 for miniblinds, $300 for a microwave and other needed touches. Two more phases of the shelter are still to come, pending residents’ continued generosity.

The shelter is named for Tim Torres, the former shelter director who died of brain cancer in 2001. Members of Torres’ family were at the event. His 13-year-old daughter, Tawnie, said the shelter is even more than what her father had envisioned. “He didn’t want people to have nowhere to [stay],” she said. “He just wanted everyone to have a fair opportunity.”

Following the short-term rental of some motel rooms, it was Chico churches that stepped forward in recent years, opening their buildings to the homeless on a rotating basis.

“It was a longer stopgap measure than we intended,” said CCSP volunteer and former board member Heather Schlaff, but the church groups’ willingness to help said a lot about the community’s empathy for the homeless.

"We are serving the people who are already here in our community and don’t have a place to go," Ritter said.