Safe Space, Jesus Center set sights on June opening for low-barrier Orange Street Shelter
Angela McLaughlin has felt heartbroken watching the many storms that have whipped through Chico the past month and half. That’s because she’s the president of Safe Space Winter Shelter’s board of directors, and the seasonal operation shut down early, the last weekend of February.
“A lot of people I got to know pretty well … I know they’re out there right now,” she told the CN&R. “So many of them are sleeping in the channels and in the creeks [of Chico].”
But McLaughlin is hopeful that will soon change. She’s part of the efforts by Safe Space and the Jesus Center to open the Orange Street Shelter, a 24/7 low-barrier homeless facility that has been in the works since November.
“I know a lot of those folks will definitely be ready to come in as soon as we have something [open],” McLaughlin said of the year-round facility. “This really is an unbelievable opportunity. We feel so lucky about it.”
The CN&R spoke with McLaughlin on Monday (April 8). The next night, during a special meeting of the Chico City Council, she was among the organizers who gave the public and the council an overview of the project and its proposed location at 388 Orange St. The panel took no action that evening, as the item was informational in nature, but several council members expressed support (see “Naysayers’ concerns nixed,” page 11).
In the wake of the Camp Fire—after a tent and RV community popped up in the Chico Walmart’s parking lot and a vacant, neighboring field—the giant retailer’s charitable arm, the Walmart Foundation, gave the organizations a $1 million donation to establish a shelter. The intent: to support local service providers and “help address the increased needs of the local homeless population,” including displaced Camp Fire survivors and the chronically homeless.
The search for a location began shortly thereafter and hasn’t been easy. McLaughlin cited numerous obstacles: a lack of available land, costly renovations needed at some properties, and landlords who were uneasy about the project.
Funding was another significant hurdle. However, last month, the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care awarded the Jesus Center $450,000 for the shelter from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (see “$4.9 million conundrum,” Newslines, March 21), making this location financially feasible. Now, five months after the Walmart gift, a few of the final formalities include approvals from the city and signing a lease—18 months with the possibility of six-month extensions.
Sheltering is an ongoing issue in the region that was exacerbated by the Camp Fire, said Jesus Center Executive Director Laura Cootsona. The Orange Street Shelter likely will provide a space for some of the folks who were “already living on the edge and the very poor that were coming off the Ridge,” she said.
As it stands, Chico doesn’t have adequate facilities to meet the need.
“We feel like we’re really missing beds for the most vulnerable and the most complicated folks that are experiencing homelessness,” Cootsona said. “If we do nothing, and we don’t add any more shelter beds and we don’t address some of the most complicated folks … their lives are going to continue to deteriorate and our community is going to continue to suffer because they feel like it’s affecting their quality of life. I think we can [address] both of those concerns in this kind of a facility.”
The Orange Street building is impossible to miss because of its size—15,000 square feet and two stories—and its brick-red color. The location, formerly home to Woof & Poof’s manufacturing operations, is next door to the Chico Art Center and a few blocks from Chico State’s Wildcat Recreation Center.
If all goes according to plan, Jesus Center and Safe Space personnel will open the doors on June 15 and be able to accommodate 100 to 120 people. The organizations will operate the shelter collaboratively but manage their specialties, with the Jesus Center taking on daytime operations and Safe Space overseeing nighttime sheltering.
Notably, the facility will not require sobriety for admittance, but guests are expected to follow a code of conduct that prohibits violence, threats, use and possession of drugs and alcohol on the premises, and damaging of property.
In addition to providing guests a place to sleep—with separate quarters for single women and families—the shelter will offer meals and storage for personal items.
The facility will include a day center with a computer lab and an outreach desk where outside agencies, like shelter partners Butte County Behavioral Health and Butte/Glenn 211, can set up and provide assistance. Individual case management will be required, and the shelter also will offer housing and employment resources, life skills classes and vocational training, and substance abuse counseling and support groups.
McLaughlin said she is hopeful the shelter will increase community safety by decreasing the amount of abandoned belongings and trash left along creeks and city streets, providing 24-hour restroom access and getting people out of the elements.
“We want this to make a difference in the community,” she said.