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Interview: Emergency shelter Safe Space to open a summer cooling center in Chico

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Heat-related illness is again a concern in Chico, as temperatures are expected to return to the triple digits over the next several days. Even so, the city’s cooling center isn't operational. City officials say that’s because the center — which consists of a tent and misting equipment — was vandalized at Depot Park a month ago. The city says homeless encampments on the property are preventing the damage from being fixed.

In response, Safe Space — a temporary emergency shelter in Chico — is planning to open an indoor air-conditioned space to the community. The nonprofit usually operates in the winter months, but last year it opened a cooling center for the first time after feeling like there was a lack of options in the city. NSPR’s Alec Stutson recently spoke with executive director of Safe Space, Hilary Crosby, who said the nonprofit's cooling center could be ready as soon as Friday. She said Safe Space is in preliminary talks with the City of Chico to receive funds from the city.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

On Safe Space's plans to open a cooling center

Safe Space last year launched a cooling center due to a lack of a response from the city of Chico. It was well received, even with COVID. It was a great opportunity for the community to get out of the heat and the weather.

“I think that we've seen a lot of divisiveness in our community between service providers and between the city. And ultimately, we all want to swim in the same direction. We all have the same goal and that's making sure our community is healthy and making sure that our community has resources.” — Hilary Crosby, Executive Director of Safe Space
— Hilary Crosby, Executive Director of Safe Space

This year we definitely see a need. Normally we do winter sheltering, but we like to look at all the needs of the community. So we are actively trying to get some resources to support that effort for this summer. We have three locations lined up, with our model of rotating churches who have opened their doors and said they would make their facilities available for us. Right now we're trying to figure out how we fund that operation.

On what the center would provide 

We can generally house about 20 people. Our model is very low barrier, so we want to make it as easy as possible and make it immediate sheltering so people can come in and stay there for the day with the staff on site. We just let people be, and let people stay there and cool off and provide water, and ice, and things like that.

We're looking at running between 70 to 80 days. Last year, we were open for about 77 days. So that seems about the length of time that we can cover an immediate need. So we're looking if we start mid-July, then maybe go to September, and see what we can do in that period of time.

On working with the City of Chico

We are partners. We're partners that don't always see eye to eye, or have different ways of going about something. We do want to align ourselves with the city. I think that we've seen a lot of divisiveness in our community between service providers and between the city. And ultimately, we all want to swim in the same direction. We all have the same goal and that's making sure our community is healthy and making sure that our community has resources.

We do have our own mission that sometimes doesn't align with the city, and we still have to do what we think is best, which is immediate emergency sheltering of people. We just kind of have to stay in our lane and do that, and know that that's what the purpose of our organization is. So I would like to think that we're moving in a more cohesive direction.

“A lot of people in our community don't want to see homelessness. And if you don't have a living room to sit and if you don't have a place to be, I'm not sure how we achieve that unless we give people somewhere to be during the day, and hopefully engage them in services.”
— Hilary Crosby, Executive Director of Safe Space

On Safe Space's plans for the future

I think we're really focused on building capacity with Safe Space. Maybe moving beyond just winter sheltering and cooling center opportunities. Maybe we can find a way to do a smaller operation and have a physical building. Rotating between churches is fantastic, and it's provided great opportunities for us. But it's a lot of logistics that go into transporting stuff between facilities and moving people, and maybe we could better serve the community if we had a permanent location. So that's kind of on our radar to meet a need here.

We know that probably for a long time Chico will have a need for more low-barrier shelter options. So our focus may be 'Can we maybe provide showers?' and 'Can we provide some day services for people?' A lot of people in our community don't want to see homelessness. And if you don't have a living room to sit and if you don't have a place to be, I'm not sure how we achieve that unless we give people somewhere to be during the day, and hopefully engage them in services and give them an opportunity to be there.

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.