Our fellow man

Our local homeless population is averaging, at minimum, one death every two weeks

This unseasonably warm weather—more than 10 degrees above February’s average—is screwy. I’d actually classify the temperature—daytime highs in the low to mid 70s—as the perfect weather; just cool enough to wear a sweater comfortably. It’s the kind of weather that, under normal circumstances, would make me want to take a few days off to enjoy it.

But normal circumstances are pretty much nonexistent these days. More than anything, when I think of the warmth we’re experiencing, I’m hopeful that it will staunch the deaths in the homeless community associated with exposure to the elements.

A few months ago, CN&R Staff Writer Ken Smith wrote a poignant story about three people who died in a short stretch while living on Chico’s streets (see “The final kindness,” Cover story, Dec. 17). By our count today, less than two months after publishing that story, another four have succumbed to illnesses related to living outdoors. Most of the reports we’re getting come through word of mouth, either from local service providers or directly from other people who live on the streets. In other words, the actual number likely is higher.

One of the more high-profile deaths is a woman named Vandy Dawn Caruthers, whom authorities identified last week. She made news only because her badly decomposed body was found a month earlier along Honey Run Road in Paradise. We don’t know much about Caruthers, other than she’s likely from Tennessee and had been in Chico since at least 2007, based on Web searches.

Caruthers died of hypothermia. She was 41 years old. What does it say about our community that our homeless population has averaged one death every two weeks? And those are just the ones CN&R knows about.

Speaking of homelessness, I received an email the other day from Michael Madieros, the executive director of Stairways Programming, a local housing first organization. He wanted me to know how one of Stairways’ clients, a formerly longtime homeless woman, lit up while going through the giant box of toiletries and beauty products—or, as Madieros put it, “goodies”—CN&R dropped off there after taking in donations from the public over the holidays.

Seeing her excitement, Madieros says, reminded him of how even small gestures can be life-changing. Thanks again to the CN&R readers who contributed those items, from the sweet-smelling shampoos to the samples of designer perfumes.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to activist Patrick Newman, a CN&R reader and frequent writer of letters to the editor at this newspaper and the daily. He’s the author of a wonderful essay two years ago in response to Orchard Church’s longtime homeless-feeding program getting booted from City Plaza (see “Out of sight, out of mind,” Jan. 23, 2014).

Newman recently restarted his Sunday-afternoon demonstrations at City Plaza, offering things like socks, ponchos, blankets, tarps and food to the folks who call our streets home. Newman is regularly ridiculed by other letter writers for his take on the homeless issue (read: compassion), among other progressive causes. For those people, I have one question: What are you doing for your fellow man?