NIMBY cowardice

Walmart’s $1 million decision following weak leadership from university, Jesus Center

Last Tuesday (May 21), I listened to Angela McLaughlin of Safe Space Winter Shelter give a presentation to the Greater Chico Homeless Task Force on the proposed Orange Street Shelter. Then I watched the group vote on whether to support the effort. Not a single person voted in opposition.

Among the enthusiastic aye vote-givers was Jesus Center Executive Director Laura Cootsona. The next morning, just before this paper went to print, I learned that the North Valley Community Foundation (NVCF) had returned a $1 million Walmart Foundation donation gifted in the wake of the Camp Fire. That’s the contribution the retailer had earmarked “to help address the increased needs of the local homeless population”—money Safe Space needed to open Orange Street’s doors.

NVCF’s decision is just the latest bombshell related to a chain of NIMBY maneuvers that may very well spell the end of a good project.

Recall how the Jesus Center spent five months as part of the plans to open the Orange Street facility. Late last month, citing public discord, that organization abruptly caved to the NIMBYs.

Weeks before, Chico State President Gayle Hutchinson sent a letter to city of Chico leaders that gave a thumbs down to the location near campus. Hutchinson charged that the institution she helms supports “the creation of an additional shelter in Chico.” However, in the same sentence, she said that “we strongly urge the City Council to find an alternate location.” There’s no indication as to whom Hutchinson was referring when she wrote “we.”

What’s clear is that her letter—a stain on her tenure and the institution—helped drive the aforementioned events. In it, she said the proposed shelter would serve as a “living laboratory” for students. That’s pretty flippant considering such a place could literally mean the difference between life and death for unsheltered people.

Some will argue that Hutchinson’s decision stems from her thinking about the welfare of the student body first. I’m not buying that narrative. Thing is, the folks the Orange Street Shelter is designed to help already live in the university’s sphere—in nearby parks, along creeks, under bridges and, hell, very likely on campus proper.

Chico State’s chief seems unaware of this. She believes the shelter would, as she put it, “bring a vulnerable population such as those who will be the primary clients of the low barrier shelter into close proximity to student housing and other campus facilities.”

It’s possible many of those “clients” may not go to a shelter outside of that region—their home. If that’s the case, Hutchinson just helped torch the makings of a project that would actually provide a solution to a population she believes poses a threat.

But enough about the cowardice coming from Kendall Hall.

Just days after learning about the NVCF’s giveback, I learned that the Jesus Center and the Torres Community Shelter—in addition to Safe Space—are now vying for that $1 million pot. We have an update, although none of the organizations has laid out its plans (see Ashiah Scharaga’s report on page 8).

Backstabbing aside, it’s important to remember the big picture here. Chico needs emergency shelter and it needs it yesterday. The good news is that Walmart is committed to distributing that cool million locally. We just hope the big-box chooses wisely.