Safe Space is not giving up on chronically homeless

Establishing a year-round, low-barrier shelter is critical for the community

The author is shelter operations manager for Safe Space Winter Shelter and also sits on the nonprofit's board of directors.

For hundreds of people living in Chico without shelter, a winter filled with bone-chilling temperatures and wet weather is a logistical and psychological crisis, and almost every winter in our community, someone who lives outside dies.

It’s also during these cold winter months that something revolutionary happens. Safe Space Winter Shelter, in partnership with 10 local churches and nearly 300 community volunteers, opens its doors. Safe Space is full throughout the season, with a wait-list almost every night. Whether it’s because our guests have pets, want to sleep next to their partner, won’t pass a drug/alcohol test or have PTSD so severe that it often is more stressful to be inside than outside, most people who come to Safe Space don’t seek shelter from any other organization during the rest of the year.

Safe Space is a low-barrier shelter, designed specifically for a segment of our community the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development calls “chronically homeless.” These are people who have experienced homelessness for at least a year—or repeatedly—while struggling with a disabling condition. While not all unsheltered people are chronically homeless, most chronically homeless people are unsheltered. Stigma associated with homelessness pushes those most in need further away from services, but Safe Space brings this population closer, restoring dignity, empowerment and social inclusion.

The number of people seeking shelter and services has grown since the Camp Fire, increasing the urgency to establish a year-round, low-barrier shelter. Months ago there was a promising pot of funds earmarked specifically for opening such a facility, and Safe Space was to be the model. Through a heartbreaking series of events, that project was bypassed. Ultimately, the majority of the money was given to a Goliath whose focus is on funding a future multimillion-dollar mega project.

Safe Space and our currently unsheltered chronically homeless community have been left empty-handed but not broken. Plans to apply for new funds are in motion, and Safe Space will continue to provide seasonal shelter, as well as pursue a permanent location. Effective year-round, low-barrier shelter—managed by an organization trusted by its users—is absolutely critical for the health and safety of our whole community, and the Safe Space team and our supporters are not giving up.