Homelessness deserves real solutions


Photo credit: Helen Suh

Here in Chico, a homeless aid program called Stairways Empowered Living helps homeless and the mentally ill, but a few factors separate them from most charity programs. Firstly, they help teach people how to escape homelessness while supporting them with shelter and food, and second, they are doing this without much financial help from Butte County or anyone else.

Michael Madieros, one of the main directors of the program, says that they are self-funded, house about 65 people and help more than 150 people in five locations. He has more than 20 years in social work and his outreach program works with the Chico Police Department to go out into Chico and neighboring cities to help those in need.

According to Madieros, Chico’s homelessness involves a unique, diverse population that Chico’s residents don’t believe need help, but are stuck in an unsafe situation and don’t have available resources to help themselves.

Stairways focuses on helping severe mental illnesses, which accompanies homelessness “like bread and butter,” Madieros said. Unlike some help programs that demand recipients stay drug-free for aid, Stairway Programming sees how the homeless can depend on substances for survival and works with them to stop using drugs.

Unfortunately, not much is done for homelessness here in Chico. Madieros believes Butte County is one of the “most corrupt” for donating funds to charities, and people here don’t want to help the problem. The town is set up to help college students live easily and comfortably, but neglect those who have to reside in Chico’s streets and parks.

Police departments follow inhumane guidelines directing them to stamp out homeless settlements here and in cities like San Francisco and Sacramento, which doesn’t solve the problem and misplaces homeless looking for stability. Stairways works with police here to provide alternate options from arresting homeless individuals and change this cruel trend.

If governments want to fix homeless problems rather than moving homeless back and forth, they need to fund and research statistic-backed rehabilitation that teaches homeless to get off the streets and support themselves. Most solutions today hope that the homeless would miraculously save themselves with little assistance and don’t want to provide substantial aid.

They need better options than depending on shelters, which only provide food and temporary housing in dangerous, competitive contexts. While these services give the homeless valuable resources, they don’t give meaningful direction or assistance to leave the streets. “Shelters save, but homes change,” Madieros said.

Stairways, as an independent outreach program, counts on hard work from its own members and help from the community. Every student here should support solutions like these to help make Chico a better place. Anyone interested should visit the Stairways Programming website to find ways to help the community.

Fixing homelessness in Chico and other places in America counts on smart answers to a complex issue. When current answers don’t fix the problem, we need to look to new resolutions like teaching self-reliance and helping the homeless live happy, safe lives.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or @sdaly3orion on Twitter.