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‘We can’t have one gigantic shelter that’s going to take care of everyone’: Safe Space’s Rick Narad on the needs of Chico’s unhoused residents

Temperatures as low as 29 degrees are expected through Friday morning in the North State’s valley and foothills.

The city of Chico has opened an Emergency Warming Center for unhoused residents at Comanche Creek Greenway through that time, but development of the city’s new homeless shelter site is still underway. City officials anticipate a March opening.

One of the shelters that is up and running is Safe Space Winter Shelter. The non-profit, low-barrier shelter mobilizes during the coldest weeks of the winter and has been operating for eight years. This Sunday the shelter is set to close for the season after opening on Dec. 19.

NSPR’s Sarah Bohannon recently spoke with Rick Narad, one of Safe Space’s operations managers, about the shelter’s hope to find a permanent location, why the shelter mobilized for the first time as a cooling center this summer and the ongoing needs of Chico’s unhoused residents. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length

Interview Highlights

On Safe Space opening up as a cooling center during the heat

This summer we saw a need that the temperature was going to hit 114 degrees. There was no other cooling center open. We worked with three different churches, and were able to open a cooling center for a two-month period, and get people through that hot time of July through September. I don't see that need going away. It would be really nice if someone else stepped up to do that, but if not, then we will do it.

In some of the prior years, the city of Chico contracted with the Jesus Center to operate a cooling center during the summer. With the Jesus Center’s changes that’s not happening anymore, so the need was there. The city's, I don't know what to call it, that they were trying to operate up at the airport was not going to meet the need. A big tent without any kind of cooling, without even any walls, sitting on asphalt was not going to help keep people cool in that weather. So again, we saw the need. It'd be really nice if we had some financial support from the city for doing that, but we don’t yet. Our goal is let's save some lives and let's get people in a safe position.

On one reason Safe Space would like to find a permanent building

If we are able to get a permanent building, one of the hopes is that it would have the surge capacity to become a cooling center during the summer and a warming center during the winter, beyond the people who are sheltering there. So we're hoping that we would find a building that would allow us to do that because the need is not going to go away.

On how the Camp Fire affected homelessness in Chico

There's no argument, anyone who's living in Chico knows that the homeless population has gone up since the Camp Fire. And even where it wasn't people who directly lost their housing in Paradise, there was a trickle down effect where people from Paradise moved to Chico and that meant there were fewer houses available in a certain income range. It moved down the income level until the low-income apartments were not available either, so we had more people unable to find housing who ended up on the street. Some of the people who we deal with directly did lose their housing. So we had both groups.

On how the lawsuit against the city affects Safe Space’s work

I think it does in several ways. One is that it shows everyone that there's not enough shelter beds in Chico. I think everyone is aware of that. I think almost everyone is accepting that now, that we need to move to increase capacity. The city is working on doing that with their new operation they're trying to get across from the Torres Shelter, on the race track area there, but even that is not going to meet all the needs.

The role that we play of getting people in immediately, without going through any kind of process, to say ‘get off the street, get inside’ is different than other people are doing. And that's kind of a separate need to be able to move people into the system. To be the gateway, and the triage center for people to then move into other available housing.

[The] opening up of Everhart Village this spring is going to be an incredible resource working between Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT) and [Butte County] behavioral health is really going to help a lot of people as well. So, all of those things are coming together. Some of it is, I think, triggered by the lawsuit. Some of it is not. But I think there is more of an awareness that we have to do something and there's not a single solution that's going to meet all the needs. We can't have one gigantic shelter that's going to take care of everyone because not everyone has the same problems.

“There’s a lot of things that are needed. Certainly more beds are needed … but we need a variety of beds. We need some that are more long-range, some that are inside an institutional setting … and then others that are not. Some people need to be by themselves. Some people need to have fewer rules at the beginning and then they can become more adapted to them. So we need that recognition.”
— Rick Narad, Safe Space Operations Manager 

On the services that are still needed in Chico for unhoused residents

There’s a lot of things that are needed. Certainly more beds are needed. There's no doubt about that. But we need a variety of beds. We need some that are more long range, some that are inside an institutional setting I hate to use that word, but in that type of setting and then others that are not. Some people need to be by themselves. Some people need to have fewer rules at the beginning and then they can become more adapted to them. So we need that recognition.

But we also need coordination so that we're getting guests in the right area. So, the Coordinated Entry System and the building up of the Homeless Management Information System is going to bring us towards that, of getting the most critical people in first, getting them inside and then seeing what do they need next and moving them.

The case management stuff is there because that's the solution … helping overcome people's barriers. It's more than getting them off the street, it’s finding out what's the next step. But one thing we know is that it's really hard to deal with people's other needs, such as even just getting an ID card if they're living on a creek that gets flooded or they're being moved along regularly. So we need to put people in a stable situation in order to do that.

On whether Narad thinks the city of Chico is moving in the right direction in regards to homlessness

It's hard to say. It's really hard to say. I think that the result of the lawsuit has told them that they need to do something, I'm not sure that there's a commitment from them to really doing what needs to be done. And that's including financially as well as programmatically. Certainly the council has not made the effort to do a big overall plan. They've made several steps such as they tried to thing at the airport, they're trying to thing at the racetrack so they're making some steps in that direction, but I'm not seeing the big overall strategic approach to doing this. Some of it is coming from the providers themselves as we communicate with each other and cooperate with each other and that really does go on. So, I'd like to see the city get more involved in providing that leadership.

Sarah is an award-winning host, reporter, producer and editor. She’s worked at North State Public Radio since 2015 and is currently the station’s Assistant Program Director. She’s responsible for the “sound of the station" and works to create the richest public radio experience possible for NSPR listeners.