One recent morning, I was on my usual bleary-eyed shuffle through Lower Bidwell Park for the dog’s first constitutional of the day. I nursed my coffee, the good girl did her business, and we looped our way along our well-worn path: South Park Drive, Sycamore Pool, around the softball field, then back home. Everything was just as pleasant and peaceful and mostly uneventful as it has been week after week for the past decade—from when Honey the poodle and I first staked out this route in June of 2012 through my daily strolls with Rosie the mutt during the pandemic.
The only difference this morning? I didn’t see any tarps or tents.
As of last month, my unhoused neighbors in the park are gone, moved out of the wooded area between the bike path and Big Chico Creek as part of the transitioning-to-services and “enforcement” phases of the Warren v. City of Chico settlement; yet, I hardly noticed. Just as I rarely took notice when they were there.
The park always seemed like the most sensible solution to me. Why waste so much time and money researching properties for temporary shelter or resting places when we have thousands of acres of land already available? It’s a public park, for crying out loud.
That ship has already sunk, obviously. The park encampments have been moved out of sight of their former neighbors, and the campers have been moved along, but the work of getting people housed and providing services continues. Many have been guided to one of the two shelter options listed in the settlement: the city’s new Pallet temporary shelter site or the Torres Community Shelter. As of press deadline, those not meeting the criteria for the shelters had one option for an alternate camping site—a public lot at Eaton and Cohasset roads.
The push to move unhoused folks from the encampments has created a lot of work all at once for the shelters. The Pallet site opened April 25 and as of June 1 was housing 95 guests at its 177-unit site, with the Torres Shelter providing for 90 residents (out of a possible 140 due to COVID-19 precautions).
The latter is especially feeling the crunch, to the point that funding needed to meet the spike in the demand for services has reached a crisis point. In response, the Torres Shelter’s parent organization, True North Housing Alliance, launched an emergency fundraising drive on May 26 with the goal of raising $400,000 in 100 days. According to a press release, if the target isn’t met, the nonprofit will have to turn away people “who will have nowhere else to go.”
If Torres is forced to limit services, once the Pallet site fills up, folks will of course go wherever they need to, which means park encampments again. If you like the work the shelter does on behalf of our unhoused neighbors, or if you just like to keep your social problems “out of sight,” get your checkbook out.
For more details and to contribute to True North’s drive, visit truenorthbutte.org.
Jason Cassidy is editor of the Chico News & Review.