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Seeking Shelter: What Options Are Available For Chico’s Unhoused Residents?

Encampment at Comanche Creek Greenway.
Sarah Bohannon
Encampment at Comanche Creek Greenway.

The city of Chico is facing a lawsuit filed by a group of unhoused individuals who say its policy of clearing homeless encampments violates their constitutional rights. Members of the Chico City Council have said that there are enough emergency beds in Chico for those seeking shelter. However, some unhoused individuals and advocates say there are numerous barriers to accessing those beds and camping outside isn’t a choice. NSPR’s Alec Stutson reports.

Read the transcript

Ken Devol, Host:

As the legal battle surrounding homeless encampments within the city of Chico continues on, the community has to grapple with the best way to address its growing unhoused population. NSPR’s Alec Stutson has more on what shelter options are currently available, and the barriers some face in accessing them.

Alec Stutson, Reporter:

In a Chico city council meeting April 6., councilmember Kami Denlay argued that homeless encampments are not the right fit for Chico.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAMI DENLAY) "As we evaluate solutions like campgrounds, we're making the assumption that there are not enough beds, and the counter argument is we have enough beds. What is the definition of enough beds?"

According to the latest data from the Butte County point-in-time count, completed for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were nearly900 people unsheltered in Butte County in 2019. Denlay argued that shelter beds go unused in Chico each night. She said enough beds means a bed for each individual seeking shelter, not for each unhoused person in Chico.

(SOUNDBITE OF DENLAY) "To put it really simply, if you send out 200 wedding invitations, and you only get 140 rsvps, you would not pay a caterer for all 200 people you pay for those who want to eat the meal. If we have a bed for every single individual seeking shelter, that's enough beds, just like if the bride or groom had 140 meals paid for they have enough meals."

Denlay did not respond to a request for an interview, but at Chico City Council meetings, she and other supporters of the camp's removal claim that Chico's shelters are a better solution for helping people get back on their feet, and that enabling camping is 'toxic compassion.'

NSPR called five homeless shelters and aid groups in Chico, and the only place that had beds available was the Torres Community Shelter, run by the True North Housing Alliance.

Executive Director Joy Amaro says the Torres shelter had approximately 30 beds available as of Thursday.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOY AMARO) "Basically, we screen out for violent felons. And sex offenders and arsonists. Other than that, anyone you know that's experiencing homelessness, can enter our doors."

Molly Lopez, the Shelter Operations Manager for temporary shelter Safe Space says there are many reasons shelter life might not be the right fit for everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOLLY LOPEZ) "A big barrier that I don't think people understand is that Torres doesn't let couples stay together. I mean, as you can imagine, probably if you were on the street and you're with your partner, you would not want to be separated from them. [...] Another barrier can often be work schedules. Some of these shelters have really strict requirements of when you check in and when you check out and a lot of folks have jobs so that might not that might not work."

For some unhoused people like Benson Benson, the strict nighttime curfew and dormitory style living at the Torres Shelter did not work well with his lifestyle or his struggles with mental illness.

(SOUNDBITE OF BENSON BENSON) "It's just a really a really, really bad environment for me. And then I went out one night, and I told them I was having a manic attack. And I walked from the Torres all the way to Enloe. And then they gave me some meds. And I went back to the Torres shelter. The next day, I had a manic attack that night because that's when they come on. You can feel it coming on. And I went and told them, Hey, I'm having a manic attack, I need to get out and walk again.And they wouldn't let me out. And that's the night I escaped."

Benson didn't return. After spending some time on the streets, he eventually entered a housing program operated by the Chico Housing Action Team, or CHAT. Through their program, he now lives in his own apartment.

(SOUNDBITE OF BENSON) "I have my own space. I felt safe.'

CHAT currently has no spaces open for new applicants.

While the Torres Shelter is the only program NSPR could confirm with beds available, those who have been at the shelter multiple times before need to attend a ‘reconsideration appointment’ with a staff member before they can stay at the shelter again. Due to the increasing number of applications, the wait for these appointments is currently about two weeks. True North Housing Alliance says they are opening more appointment slots to try and lower this time.

For NSPR News, I'm Alec Stutson.

Alec Stutson grew up in Colorado and graduated from the University of Missouri with degrees in Radio Journalism, 20th/21st Century Literature, and a minor in Film Studies. He is a huge podcast junkie, as well as a movie nerd and musician.