Remembering Jasper

Well-known late homeless man touched the hearts of many Chicoans

The author is a community consultant who focuses her efforts on the housing crisis.

I once asked Jasper what he wanted his life to be like in five years. He said that he wanted to be a private investigator with his own office on Nord Avenue, and his name would be written in big, gold letters on the front door. He said he wanted to help people by cracking codes and solving crimes. He also said that he was afraid of being lonely. He was like most of us in that way—or like me, at least. In his adult life, Jasper Townsend became a well-known homeless man, a Chico local whom many had known since he was a small child. After nearly a year of living in his own apartment, at 39 years old, the irreplaceable and forever-loved Jasper passed away.

Above all, Jasper will be remembered for being kind. He wore his heart on his sleeve and inspired the same in those who knew him. I don’t even remember meeting him for the first time. He was just there, an enormous shining light, trying his best to decode mysteries during the day and staying up late into the night reading Goosebumps at the shelter, making friends and opening the hearts of even the toughest of people, and trying not to be lonely while sleeping here and there along Park Avenue.

Jasper was child-like, in both challenging and beautiful ways. He loved anime, puzzles and games, and he hated taking showers, though, admittedly, that is tough to do while homeless. He lit up the often tough and sometimes dark world of homeless services—on one particularly dark day, a passerby threw a small explosive at Jasper while he was sitting on the sidewalk, hitting his hand and creating a blister the size of a softball. Even as the world was cruel to him, this new wound brought about the most beautiful work between him and a resource manager at the Jesus Center. Each day, she would help him with his injury and they would share in kind, loving engagement—something that, as humans, we all need.

Jasper taught us to be creative with our work—to fit programs to people, instead of relying only on policy to drive the way we care for people. His loyal and tireless advocate, Will, took him under his wing, offering the friendship that Jasper wanted and so badly needed. I remember hearing the story of Will taking him to the fair, where Jasper had a blast playing games. With Jasper, it was plain to see how any kindness could make him happy. He was so ready to connect and be included, so willing to share in the joy. That is something that he taught me, and I learned how to give better by knowing him. His heart, wide open and so loving, opened mine, too.