Would you stay at Torres Shelter?

It was 30 degrees on the patio when me and the dogs stuck our noses out there at 7am. My house shoes seemed to melt off as I stepped out there, the pavement felt like cold metal. Time to turn that heater on, damn the PG&E bill!

We aren’t hearing much about The Homeless these days. Frankly, I expected them to largely disappear when it got COLD, we’ll see what happens over the next few days. They’ve kept a persistent presence Downtown all through the holidays – I didn’t venture in to the core during Christmas Preview, I wonder if they were there among the throngs, marching up and down the sidewalks, collecting free treats from the business owners? 

I have noticed, they aren’t making as strong a presence at Safeway on Mangrove these days. There used to be a regular camp between the south entrance and the shoe store, and then you’d almost always find some young couple panhandling, oftentimes with a small dog, on the north entrance. It’s been common over past years to find a person holding a begging sign, standing in the planter as you drove in off Mangrove, next to the bank. I have to wonder if the management at Safeway has taken step to chase these people away. Did the cops have anything to do with it?

I haven’t investigated, but I’m guessing there’s a camp somewhere in Comanche Creek, I see a lot of homeless walking along the freeway there, gathering recyclables, just after sunrise.  We’ve seen them migrating toward town later in the morning, like a raggy army.

I see them walking up Bidwell Park in groups of half dozen or more whenever I ride my bike to town in the early morning. I know how it is – when we go camping, we get really cold just before the sun comes up.  We lay in our bags, rubbing our legs together like old sticks,  waiting for those first spots of sunlight – even if it isn’t warm, it’s better than dark. As soon as it gets light in the park, camps break up and these folks head for Downtown to get themselves a hot cup of coffee or something to eat. Wouldn’t you? 

I know, a lot of homeless won’t stay in a shelter. You have to ask yourself – would you? Could you sleep in a common room full of bunk beds, with strangers? Could you surrender your belongings to check-in, and submit to a common shower, with strangers?  Or stay in a building that’s been treated for bed bugs?

 I had a friend who ran out of money just short of the end of the semester and  had to give up his apartment several weeks before he was to graduate from Chico State. He couldn’t make himself ask friends to “couch surf” – I, for one,  lived in a tiny studio and had no room for him.  He packed his belongings into his car and parked it in different residential neighborhoods around town. He spent his days at the campus, and as the sun would start moving into the west, he’d park his car, pack a backpack full of overnight stuff, and ride his old 10-speed into Upper Park.  I never asked him how or where he slept at night, but I know I would have done the same thing before I stayed at any of the shelters around town.

The Torres shelter is management heavy. They spend too much money on their manager and not enough money making the place livable.  What we need is a cheap overnight hotel, where people can pay as much as they can afford. In this way the place will generate some revenue to help pay for itself, but truly destitute people are welcome. They should have tiny single  private rooms, and more private bathrooms. 

In the old days there were “transient hotels.” By “transient,” they didn’t mean, “bums,” they meant people who moved around alot. In Sacramento there were railroad workers who just needed a cheap overnight stay in a room where they could feel secure. The streets of Downtown Sacramento used to be lined with these skinny little buildings, full of tiny single rooms with a bed, wash stand, and maybe even  a window, and at the end of the hall a bathroom with a locking door, a toilet and a shower. Sure, you might have to wait to use the bathroom, but at least you could have your peace and privacy once you got it. 

I remember signs that said, “22 cents a day.” Sure, I realize, it would cost more than that today, but look at the average $100 a night motel room. You could probably make four rooms out of that, and rent them for $25 a day. They could  be subsidized to be cheaper for more needy people. And, for couples, or people with children, there could be  slightly bigger rooms. Take out all the bells and whistles – including the bathroom – and it gets a lot cheaper than your average motel. If these were clean and run responsibly, they might even attract travelers, like a hostel.

The Torres Shelter and Jesus Center are not used to their full capacity because of poor layout.  If they’d planned for single rooms and more, small private bathrooms, they could and would get more people in those shelters. 

I’ve heard something about a new cafe that serves meals with a sliding price scale. That sounds nice, but we’ll see how long the goodness of people’s heart will last. They want volunteers to serve – how about a system where you  can work  off your meal? One of these cafes should  be attached  to the Jesus Center and another at Torres Shelter. They could invite other restaurant chefs to come in, good  publicity for other restaurants.

I’ve seen the people who have been hired to clean up Downtown – how about hiring them to clean the shelters? Bed bugs are something you can see with your naked eye – there’s no excuse to allow a newer building to become infested, somebody has to be paying attention.  Who cleans the Torres shelter? Who cleans the Jesus Center? 

I’m just asking. I’ve observed more homeless on the streets this winter, and I know they don’t have much choice, given our shelters. I know there are criminals among them that are getting away with crimes around town, including crimes against other homeless, and just plain annoying stuff like crapping behind  your dumpster or taking a bath in the city fountain.  They had a report about “sit and lie” at a recent council meeting, but nobody had the gagnas to ask, “Why isn’t it working?”

 Eating at a Downtown restaurant recently we were entertained (for lack of a better word) by a crazy  looking bastard carrying a big purple sleeping bag as he noodled along the sidewalk out front, coming closer and closer and finally smearing himself against the windows and doors at the front of the various businesses.  We sat in a window table, and he pressed his face right up  at us, his eyes all glazed over and his mouth crusty with something. He looked blankly around the room as though searching for someone, then tore himself away and wandered along the street. That is something I might expect in Downtown Sacramento, but not in Downtown Chico.  20 years ago I would have gone out on the sidewalk and confronted him. Sal Corona would have screamed him off the street. But nobody did anything – the server actually  seemed to avoid our area when the guy  came close to the windows and door. He’d come right up to the recessed door, twirl around bumping off the building, and then meander on. He must have passed a dozen times while we sat eating our quickie meal. 

I’m feeling the frustration of the Downtown merchants, they’ve run the gamut with the city and the police department, and the “street people” only seem to be a bigger nuisance. According to  the Chief’s report, they’d only made a few arrests for “sit and lie” over the last six months – I assume, what the man was doing to the front of the building as we ate our dinner,  was a persistent effort not to sit or lie.  











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