Red Cross shelter evacuation slows as protests stall

The American flag hangs over the entrance of the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, CA on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Photo credit: Christian Solis

Cars and trailers leaving the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds slowed towards the end of the day Thursday, the day slated as a soft deadline for emptying the grounds, as those staying at the shelter continued to reach lower numbers.

According to Stephen Walsh, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross at the shelter, the numbers at 10 p.m. the night before were down into double-digits with only around 50 people staying in the shelters. A larger number, about 140, remained in parking lots at the fairgrounds in trailers and RVs.

“No one is getting kicked out,” Walsh said, reiterating the speaking point echoed by Red Cross spokespeople and volunteers over the past week.

Even though the California Office of Emergency Services has renewed the lease of the fairgrounds for shelter use until March 15, that is just a contingency plan. The hope is to find everyone currently staying at the shelter stable, if not temporary, housing.

When asked about how long he expects the Red Cross will remain Walsh said, “I can’t say for sure, but I think a few more weeks.” According to Walsh, the family dormitory at the shelter has been completely emptied out, with everyone who stayed there having a housing plan.

The California Homeless Union held a picket line and rally in front of the Butte County Office on Memorial Way on the same day. There were only a few people in attendance; it had fewer participants than their first protest on Monday.

Bryan Lee Brown, president of the California Homeless Union, explained the situation as wanting a demand letter to be served that day.

“What we hope to accomplish is that they acknowledge what we are asking,” Brown said. “And what we are asking is not anything I don’t think they should adhere to.”

In a handout provided at the event, there is a filing complaint of the following.

1. Disclosure of city owned property that can be used as shelter.

2. A moratorium on enforcement on all anti-camping laws.

3. Public hearings and full accounting of the millions in donations.

4. Re-opening the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds.

“We want it in a humane manner, we want everybody to be on board with the same thing,” Brown said. “If you put your shoe on the other foot, you just gotta really realize that you can’t be just a point to where it’s done.

It’s a catastrophe. so if it’s done well, then that means it’s complete, well we feel it ain’t complete – not when you have people still left in there.”

The California Homeless Union entered the Butte County Building where they met with Tami Ritter, the Butte County District 3 Supervisor.

Josh Cozine and Julian Mendoza can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @joshcozine and @julianMTheOrion.