‘Not the time to cut back’
Torres Community Shelter needs help after busiest year ever
During a recent tour of the Torres Community Shelter, Patrick Clark, a service coordinator and case manager, was preparing a can of chicken noodle soup for a guest who had fallen ill.
“When I’m sick, staying on the couch, having soup and shutting the world out are essential,” Clark explained. “Imagine the horror of being homeless and having a fever and throwing up without having a bed. When you’re feeling so sick and have absolutely no place [to go], it’s terrible.”
While flu season is an undoubtedly difficult time to be without a home, this winter is proving to be a challenge for the shelter itself. The busiest year in the shelter’s history was capped by a costly bed-bug infestation that, several weeks after a successful fumigation, continues to be a financial burden. All the while, construction crews are pushing to complete a 4,000-square-foot expansion—which will include a full commercial kitchen, case-management offices, a cafeteria and space for activities—by Christmas Day.
“It’s all added up to be a pretty hectic year,” said Brad Montgomery, the shelter’s executive director.
Additionally, ticket sales have been lackluster leading up to the shelter’s primary fundraising event—the annual Christmas Tree Auction & Holiday Festival on Dec. 7. In years past, the benefit has sold upward of 300 tickets and covered about a month’s worth of operation expenses.
It costs about $500,000 to run the shelter each year, but the money is well spent, Montgomery said. In the past fiscal year, the shelter housed a record 729 guests, about 300 of whom successfully transitioned to more stable living situations following their stay.
“That’s really impressive when you think about the wide variety of obstacles our guests face, some of them self-imposed,” Montgomery said. “[Helping] 300 people no longer live on the streets or in their cars is quite an accomplishment. We have a success story every 29 hours.”
The shelter’s troubles began in the spring, as guests reported being bitten by bed bugs; subsequent heat, spray insecticides and concentrated fumigation treatments failed to permanently eradicate the blood-sucking insects. Ultimately, the shelter was covered by a tent and underwent a fumigation process in mid-October that relocated guests to the First Baptist Church’s Fellowship Hall for three days.
Clark Pest Control offered its services on a discount—the fumigation itself still cost $11,500—but ongoing measures intended to keep the shelter pest-free have presented additional costs, Montgomery said. Those measures include inspections of guests’ bags and clothing upon entry, the installation of separate outside storage lockers for guests’ belongings and donations, and a new donation policy that refuses any clothing, blankets, linens or pillows removed from original packaging. The rule has caused the number of donations to decrease markedly, and makes providing such essential items more expensive.
But it appears the efforts have worked—no bed bugs have been reported since the fumigation, and on three occasions, inspections have prevented guests from reintroducing bed bugs to the facility.
Thus far, the shelter’s guests have been understanding and cooperative when subjected to searches, but Montgomery is concerned that may change as the infestation and relocation become more distant memories.
“I do worry, going forward, that someone who has never been here before is going to be offended by a search being one of the first things we do,” he said. “It’s a mistake to lose sight of the fact that [being searched] can be a pretty undignified experience.”
As for the upcoming holiday fund-raiser, Montgomery can do little more than hope ticket pre-sales are not an indication of how well-attended the event will be.
“Chico seems to make decisions at the last minute, which is nerve-wracking this time of year,” Montgomery said. “We get nervous when we’re a week out and only a handful of tickets have been purchased.”
Whether or not the benefit is a success will “have an impact on what we might be able to accomplish next year,” he said, alluding to the well-publicized homeless issues that have been at the forefront of public consciousness in recent months.
“Because of the problems we’re talking about as a community, this is not the time to cut back—we need to have more of an impact on the people currently deciding to stay outside every night.”
To donate, send checks payable to the Torres Community Shelter at 101 Silver Dollar Way, Chico, CA, 95928, or make a donation online at www.chicoshelter.org.