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

Natalie Hanson

If students weren’t already concerned about the housing crisis in Chico before the Camp Fire, they should be 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 Gayle 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.