Out of the cold
Local activists work to provide warmth and safety for Chico’s homeless
The Arctic cold snap sweeping the United States has been making international headlines. Closer to home, three homeless residents in Santa Clara County without access to a shelter at night made the news after they died of hypothermia-related causes as a result of the bitter freeze.
This is precisely the type of scenario Robert Trausch of the recently formed Chico Homeless Action Team (CHAT) has been working to avoid locally, where bone-chilling nighttime temperatures have dipped into the 20s for days in a row. Temperatures are slowly rising, but not by much, thus maintaining a potential life-or-death situation for those without a place to sleep out of the brutal cold.
“People are actually dying [in other communities] and we have to address those issues,” Trausch said in a recent interview. “I want people to be dry, safe and warm at night.”
Thus, Trausch and the nearly 20 other concerned Chicoans who form CHAT—including his wife, local attorney Leslie Johnson, and Dan Everhart, president of the Chico Peace and Justice Center’s board of directors—have combined forces with the CPJC to open the doors of the center every night at 8:30 p.m. since Dec. 7 to offer the homeless a warm, dry place to sleep while temperatures remain dangerously cold.
“[M]any people are not able to use the Torres [Community] Shelter because of mental illness or drug or alcohol problems, or for various other reasons,” reads a Dec. 8 CHAT press release announcing the arrangements at the CPJC. “In past years, the armory at the fairgrounds has sometimes been used as a ‘warming shelter’ during unusually cold weather, but no such arrangements have been made as yet this winter.”
“I honor and appreciate what the Torres Shelter does,” Trausch said, “but what we’re doing at this time is serving a different clientele, because of the freezing weather. It’s an emergency.”
In addition to taking in the substance-addicted and mentally ill, the CPJC is also accepting homeless guests with dogs and cats.
“Many of the homeless are disenfranchised from society and their family,” Trausch said, “but their pets become their family. We had one mentally ill guy last night who was taking care of his dog—he had gotten him all his shots—because that’s his family.”
On the first night it opened to the homeless, the CPJC welcomed 12 guests, with that number climbing to 20 the following night, and 21 the night after that.
In addition to facilitating the operation of the CPJC warming shelter, CHAT volunteers have also sought out the homeless at their camps and on the streets to offer an alternative to sleeping outside or—in the case of those who do not wish to sleep inside—provide them with sleeping bags, tents and socks.
For his part, CPJC Director Chris Moore-Backman said he is pleased with CHAT’s timely activism. “I join with so many other Chicoans in a feeling of deep gratitude for the community leaders who have launched the Chico Homeless Action Team,” he said in an email. “Their effort to make a safe and warm space available to some of our most vulnerable community members is a perfect model of the kind of work that is required of people of conscience in our society today. …
“As an organization committed to building the beloved community, offering our support and the use of our space for this purpose is the least that the Chico Peace and Justice Center can do.”