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University urging ‘relocation’ of low-barrier shelter a disappointment

Natalie Hanson

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If students weren’t already concerned about the housing crisis in Chico before the Camp Fire, they are now. The city of Chico certainly has to be as well. Based on letters shared with students on April 12, so is our university-until it hits too close to home.

The letters to Chico’s city council that were shared with students in an email on April 12 conveyed serious concern on the part of the university. Yet, concern was not for those in town who still need shelter. Instead, Chico State expressed distaste for how close people may be sheltered near campus.

A new low-barrier shelter has been proposed and the campus has taken a clear stance on the construction of this shelter, which would be located by West 4th Avenue and Orange Street.

The shelter would offer up to 200 additional beds and would be located off of campus grounds. Still, the university felt enough concern about its possible construction that it was deemed necessary to not only write to the council about the location but urge an alternative location for this new shelter.

This is one notification that students, however temporarily they are residents of Chico, ought to pay attention to as the attitudes expressed about homelessness are disappointing to hear from our university.

First, in this statement, President Gail Hutchinson claimed that the campus has taken a position to support the needs for shelters in Chico. However, she went on to say that the campus is urging an alternative location for this particular shelter. Not just suggesting-the university is urging this relocation.

Second, the language used in these letters should concern students. If the campus “looks forward to the service opportunities that the shelter can provide,” (calling it a “living laboratory” is an even more disappointing and offensive way to acknowledge this shelter), why is it so concerned with the shelter being built close to campus? Calling those who would use the shelter a “vulnerable population” and in too close of proximity to students is not just offensive but troubling in a town that is very aware of just how many have been left homeless after the fire and how many were without them before.

It is disturbing that our university has responded with so much concern over the location of this shelter during a time in which many public safety concerns still linger following the fire. When so many are still without a home in a town where, as in much of California, homelessness cannot be ignored, it is disappointing to see a proposal for a shelter handled in this way by our public campus.

It is also upsetting to see concern for crime and safety brought up in connection to this issue. Yes, the numbers don’t lie. As Hutchinson says, crime in Chico has actually dropped considerably following the recent average across the state. Therefore, it is telling that the campus responds to the idea of a shelter so close to campus as a concern for the safety of its students on the grounds of crime, even while acknowledging that the numbers of crimes have dropped significantly.

The assumptions being made by our campus about those who would take shelter in this facility, are echoing some troubling ideas commonly held about homelessness. These assumptions are equal parts offensive and disappointing, restating over and over how the campus has supposedly stood by the work of local shelters does very little when its main concern is to urge moving this shelter further away from campus.

Our university’s decision to urge alternative action (based on safety) is strange. Given that there are many other concerns for this public, open campus in terms of safety that must be addressed. Such as adequate, functional lighting and more parking options close to campus. A shelter located off of the university’s grounds should be a lower priority than these issues-Issues that students have often sought solutions to.

In fact, after a year of extraordinary safety concerns such as a devastating wildfire, toxic smoke and flooding around campus, I find it very disappointing that the campus chooses to respond so urgently to the proximity of a new shelter to the campus.

Chico State students should be disappointed and concerned about this issue. Even if you are a short-term student resident of Chico, it should concern anyone how this university handles issues relating to homelessness. These concerns about shelters and where we put them aren’t just Chico concerns or California concerns, they are everyone’s concern.

Natalie Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or @NatalieH_Orion on Twitter.

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About the Writer
Natalie Hanson, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Arts & Entertainment Editor. Former Breaking News editor and reporter.


4 Responses to “University urging ‘relocation’ of low-barrier shelter a disappointment”

  1. Julia Murphy on April 23rd, 2019 12:16 pm

    Ms. Hanson, thank you for affirming that students are more committed to the well-being of their fellow community members than the University President is.

    As a volunteer at Safe Space and a +20 year Chicoan, I support the Orange St. shelter proposal. As a parent whose child went to Rosedale (the elementary school that opponents say will be endangered by the shelter), the most frequent and closest disruption there was students from the nearby housing complexes partying. Additionally, we lived around the corner from the Jesus Center; and while my son certainly saw a lot of JC clients in our neighborhood, neither he nor we ever experienced the kind of aggressive behavior that Pres. Hutchinson seems to feel is a certainty.

    I quote Patrick Newman’s editorial:
    “Had more than a microscopic number of Chico State staff and students meaningfully engaged on these issues, the lack of university support for a downtown shelter might be surprising. Despite the on-campus, self-congratulatory talk of social justice and diversity, human rights violations on our streets meet with apathy, or worse: When the CSUC president found a voice, it was a bigoted voice and an all too perfect example of what right-wingers call “liberal elitism.” Seek support elsewhere.”

    Thank you again for calling President Hutchinson out on her capitulation to our community’s most strident and fearful voices. I would urge students to remember: It is always the right time to find your conscience. Support the Orange St. shelter–even if your President is too concerned about CSUC’s appearance to do likewise.

  2. Mk on April 23rd, 2019 4:45 pm

    This reflects the corporatized mindset that has proliferated among the upper administrations of college campuses across the nation: diversity is a feature to advertise for good PR, not a true goal. Gayle Hutchinson is yet another one of these talking heads who ultimately is concerned with the image of the college strictly as a “brand”. In turn, this positive image can attract more waves of would-be applicants to extract profit from. Stretching farther back in memory, I recall the sham of a vote that was presented to students last year on whether or not to raise tuition. Despite overwhelming consensus not to, the choices of the student body were outright ignored. For a campus that visibly tries to display how “diverse” and open minded it is, doesn’t raising tuition lower access to higher education for people already struggling to afford it, thereby lowering the diversity of the campus?

    I feel as though Chico state’s attention towards acceptance only extends to those who can give them something in return.

  3. Tami Ritter, Butte County Supervisor on April 25th, 2019 6:34 pm

    Excellent editorial. You echo what I have heard from many students. I appreciate your well reasoned perspective.

  4. jesica giannola on April 25th, 2019 9:18 pm

    Thank you for writing this up, although I feel that most of the students do support the shelter once they understand it’s purpose. I was greatly disappointed in receiving the letter from Hutchinson and sent her an immediate response back stating that I absolutely 100% did not agree with her statement or the inclusion of students -me- in agreeing with her statement. It is beyond disheartening that the president of the school I am about to get my degree in PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICES aka Health and Community Services makes a public statement that essentially discriminates against the very people I am paying money to earn my degree to HELP. My area of studies feel extremely under valued and dismissed by her statement. I feel that my passion means nothing to her and that my voice goes unheard as she counted among the “some students may not agree with me” reference. Then why am I getting this degree to help my own city with the major public health concerns involved- especially after the devastation of the Campfire? Am I wasting my time then? I would have EXPECTED my university to Support such an issue and show some education on who is really victimized and at risk here. I am a health student and I 100% support this shelter, the proposed location, and subsequent and related programs; such as needle exchange programs, mental health care benefits, and case management style help with intentions on helping people get back on their feet.

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University urging ‘relocation’ of low-barrier shelter a disappointment