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The Orion

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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico’s last big homeless encampment: Depot Park clear out

Depot+Park+the+day+before+city+officials+cleared+out+the+homeless+encampment.+Photo+taken+August+30+by+Molly+Myers.
Depot Park the day before city officials cleared out the homeless encampment. Photo taken August 30 by Molly Myers.

City officials cleared out the south side section of the Depot Park homeless encampment, Thursday. 

The day before, Nathan Beakley, Chico State alumni and former Phi Kappa Tau president, sat at a light-colored wood table with four other people just inside Depot Park. On the table sat bottles of condiments, a reusable water bottle, scented body spray, a Catholic candle and jam.

Beakley lived in Depot Park for the past few months and said the community looked out for each other. He had something stolen from him once, but he described it as a minor issue and said the shelters have the same problems with theft.

If there ever was an issue people would come sit at the table to discuss it, Beakley said. They cleaned it off everyday, “It was part of like home … it was just something normal to do … it was special.”

By late morning, the table, now bare, was removed from the camp.

“There’s no home to go back to,” Charles Wiley, who has lived through multiple camp cleanups in Chico, said. 

Many are calling the Depot Park encampment the last large homeless encampment in Chico. The park is two blocks away from Chico State’s campus near the Wildcat Recreation Center. 

“They really don’t want us here because of the college and stuff like that. The college is complaining about ‘We rob their bikes … we steal their stuff …’ That might be true,” Wiley said. “Some of that stuff might happen, but not everybody does that. Not everybody in Chico is robbing somebody.”

Wiley said the college is equating the current low enrollment crisis with the homeless population near the school. 

The college did not correspond with the city regarding the Depot Park clean up, Erik Gustafson, public works director for operations and maintenance, said. 

Leading up to the clear out, the City of Chico conducted a three week process of notifications and community outreach, to connect those living in Depot Park with services and assessments for the local shelters, Gustafson said. Nineteen people living in the park had already gone through the assessment process, he said.

“We are playing a degree of Whac-A-Mole… It really comes down to the right level of compassion but accountability,” Gustafason said.

Brian Whitley, case worker for City of Chico outreach and engagement, said 25 assessments were conducted.  

Five couples and one individual went to the Pallet Shelter following the assessments. All the other individuals were already assessed or were assessed for the Torres Community Shelter

“I’m heartbroken that this is happening,” Charles Withuhn, North State Shelter Team president, said.

Withuhn watched as a large yellow tractor picked up a mass of tarps and shopping carts. 

“That’s somebody’s property that was valuable to them,” Withuhn said, shaking his head, “Wow.”

He came to offer transportation to multiple people he knew by name.

“People are just not comfortable with looking at abject poverty, and so just sweep it away, instead of ask, ‘Why?’” Withuhn said. 

Withuhn listed reasons that impact and cause homelessness including: low wages, high rent and the fires in Butte County. 

“Not one of those reasons was caused by or is the fault of poor people,” he said. 

Following the Warren v. Chico legal settlement, the city is able to evict those living in homeless encampments if enough beds at the local shelters are available. 

According to the City of Chico website as of Friday:

  • Jesus Center, located at 2255 Fair Street: Women’s shelter 6 open beds, Men’s shelter 3 open beds
  • Torres Shelter, located at 101 Silver Dollar Way: 46 open beds
  • Pallet Shelter, located at 2280 Dr Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy: 12 pallet shelters available

Multiple people living in Depot Park compared the Torres Shelter to prison. Charles Wiley said the Pallet shelter should work with the Chico Housing Action Team to build more pallet shelters. 

“Somebody needs to come in and just take over all of it and keep the city out of it. Period,” Wiley said.

Tent in Depot Park the day before city officials cleared out the homeless encampment. Photo taken August 30 by Molly Myers.

Molly Myers can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Molly Myers
Molly Myers, Managing Editor/Features Editor
Molly Myers is a transfer student from Palmdale, California. She is a journalism major also minoring in religious studies. Molly is Managing Editor at The Orion and previously worked as Editor-in-Chief. Her work is also published in Watershed Review. Getting to meet new people and hear their stories is her favorite part of being a journalist. Outside of The Orion she instructs yoga at the WREC and volunteers with the Torres Community Shelter.

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    Charles Withuhn // Sep 4, 2023 at 9:39 am

    “…the ever expanding number of homeless is a choice – one made not by those in tents, but by politicians, policy makers, and, of course the real estate industry.” Dale Maharidge, Pulitzer Prize winning author, and professor.

    Reply
  • C

    Charles Withuhn // Sep 4, 2023 at 9:31 am

    Some people blame the campers for not getting a job. After having met with the campers weekly for over a year, my experience is that many of the campers are unable to get a job because covid put the place they were working out of business, or when they go to work they come back to find their stuff stolen. “…the ever expanding number of homeless is a choice – one made not by those in tents, but by politicians, policy makers, and, of course the real estate industry.” Dale Maharidge, Pulitzer Prize winning author, and professor.

    Reply