Up for grabs

Walmart Foundation weighing new project proposals for $1 million post-Camp Fire grant

Angela McLaughlin tells the CN&R that Safe Space Winter Shelter is “working to ensure that the [Orange Street Shelter] project remains viable.”

Angela McLaughlin tells the CN&R that Safe Space Winter Shelter is “working to ensure that the [Orange Street Shelter] project remains viable.”

CN&R file photo

After six months of working to open a 24/7 low-barrier homeless shelter, Chico service providers are back at square one.

Though Safe Space Winter Shelter remains dedicated to opening the proposed Orange Street Shelter, its partner, the Jesus Center, backed out of the project last month, its board citing a lack of “civic will.” Last week, two sources of funding were revoked.

On May 22, the CN&R learned that North Valley Community Foundation (NVCF) returned a $1 million grant from the Walmart Foundation earmarked for expanded services for the homeless population. In a press release, NVCF explained that “the terms of the grant agreement could not be achieved.” Those terms were for service providers to come to a consensus and establish a low-barrier shelter by Dec. 1. Shortly thereafter, the project lost $450,000 in state funding because the Jesus Center had been the primary grantee.

The news caused a stir—would the sizable Walmart donation be lost altogether, no longer dedicated to helping Chico and its homeless residents? Was the Orange Street Shelter project done for?

On Tuesday (May 28), Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia spoke with the CN&R via phone from her Arkansas office. She made one thing clear from the get-go: While the specific project funded by the foundation could change, the commitment would not.

“What’s going to change is how … that $1 million is structured; for lack of a better term, divided,” she said. The foundation specifically invited the Jesus Center, Torres Community Shelter and Safe Space to apply for the funds by today (May 30), she continued, and will be evaluating four main criteria: impact on the local homeless population, community support, project budget and organizational capacity to manage the grant.

Garcia elaborated: The proposals could be for existing or new services, short- or long-term projects.

The original intent was to disburse money as quickly as possible to help homeless individuals—following the Camp Fire, the Chico Walmart was the site of a large campground filled with survivors, as well as Chico’s existing homeless population. Some of the grant funds already were expended—in January, NVCF granted approximately $131,000 to the Torres Shelter to stay open 24/7 through this coming November. Garcia said Walmart is aware of that financial commitment and that “final funding decisions will be based on the proposals submitted by each organization.”

All of the service providers declined to comment on their proposals, directing questions to Walmart.

“For us, the important thing is to remain true to that original intention of the grant … helping address the needs of the chronically homeless in and around Chico,” Garcia said. “There are many ways in which that can happen. … We’re looking to these organizations because they are experts in the area of homelessness in the local community. And they’re the best to advise how to address that issue.”

After the Jesus Center pulled out of the Orange Street Shelter project and the Walmart donation was returned, another chunk of money planned for the shelter ended up back on the table. The Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care (CoC) had awarded $450,000 from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) to the Jesus Center for the shelter partnership.

The CoC board, at its meeting last Wednesday (May 22), was torn about what to do with the funds; the decision to reopen the application period passed with a narrow majority vote.

Chico City Councilman Scott Huber, who serves on the CoC board, argued that it was an “exceptional situation” and advocated for Safe Space to receive the funds, as the organization had expressed its intention of moving forward with the Orange Street project.

“These people have been working for six months, hard, and they’re the best qualified people to do this,” he said.

The legality of the issue made it a moot point, however. CoC coordinator Jennifer Griggs told the board the Jesus Center was the only applicant awarded.

McLaughlin told the CN&R that Safe Space will apply for the HEAP funds and is “working to ensure that the [Orange Street Shelter] project remains viable.”

Along with the HEAP decision, the CoC took a step toward immediately streamlining its application process with the intent of running more smoothly, especially after a controversial and confusing approach to awarding HEAP grants (see “$4.9 million conundrum,” Newslines, March 21). Instead of scheduling multiple application periods throughout the year, there will be one, from which the CoC can draw upon multiple pots of funding for projects. This year, the CoC is focusing on those that will create emergency shelter beds.

This suggestion came from representatives of the Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC), which recently began advising CoCs across the state as a result of the housing crisis, and is paid by the California Department of Housing & Community Development.

The idea initially caused an uproar. Several CoC board members said it seemed unwise to lump separate funding sources with different criteria and deadlines together.

The TAC consultants were grilled for a while before the board eventually came around, with multiple members saying they’d changed their minds mid-meeting.

“It’s a big lift for you all to go through this process many times,” said Lisa Sloane, a TAC senior policy adviser. “And I don’t know that you’ll get a lot of different projects.

“What we’d like you to try to think [is], can you get up here, get at the 100,000-foot level with us for a second … think about what it is you need in your community to move the needle on ending homelessness and address people’s needs.”