After enduring almost a year of shifting City Council directions, intense public criticism and unrealized attempts to help create new shelter options, Suzi Kochems is leaving her role as the city of Chico’s homeless solutions coordinator.
Kochems, who officially assumed that role in August 2020, will remain on the job until July 17 before pursuing opportunities in other jurisdictions, according to a Monday (June 7) press release from the city. On Wednesday (June 9), Kochems responded to the Chico News & Review with an emailed statement regarding her departure. She outlined her eight years of experience as a consultant and 15 years in the public sector doing work “centered around my passion to assist others,” which included developing affordable housing and low-income social and community service programs for several Northern California cities and counties.
“At the end of the day, it is important for me to feel that my efforts contributed to something bigger and better for others,” she said of what spurred her to take the job in Chico.
“[I was] originally tasked with facilitating a temporary emergency shelter solution that was already in the works.” Kochems said, referring to a proposed “navigation center” on Carmichael Drive that could have provided 160 to 300 emergency shelter beds, but never manifested.
“As time progressed, as sheltering opportunities came and went, and as COVID continued, the focus from the city council perspective leaned more in the direction of alleviating the impacts of homelessness (i.e., cleaning up the parks, greenways and waterways). The health, safety, fire and environmental impacts of homelessness have greatly weighed on the community and this became, and continues to be, the top priority for the council majority and city staff to address.
“As a homeless advocate, I fully understand the need to maintain everyone’s safety, and that solutions come in all different shapes and sizes. I firmly believe that maintaining safety should include the safety of those persons who are the most vulnerable, are often referred to in disparaging terms like vagrant or derelict, and who frequently do not have the capacity to advocate for their own well-being. It is my hope that both accountability and compassion can come together as a solution that improves the lives of all Chico residents going forward.”
The city is currently recruiting for the position, according to the press release. Kochems is the second person to serve as homeless solutions coordinator since the position was created in March of 2020, with True North Housing Alliance Executive Director Joy Amaro having originally filled the role on an interim basis.
“At this time, I will be focusing my attention on building capacity in housing, homeless and low-income programs in other jurisdictions,” Kochems’ statement reads. “This is where I am able to make the most significant impacts.”
Kochems departure comes as the city is still under orders from a Federal Court to come up with adequate shelter solutions for Chico’s homeless population. The court granted an extension on a joint proposal for solutions from both parties due earlier this month until June 18. If no agreement is reached then, a preliminary injunction hearing will be held at 10 a.m. on June 25.