Deep freeze threatens lives of unsheltered in Chico

"They understand it's cold! You need to be in somewhere, regardless.. They offer the roof to sleep - there's no showers, they feed you, and then it's bedtime" said Wetzel.

Posted: Feb 20, 2018 5:35 PM

"We have literally slept on these sidewalks many, many cold nights." said Robert Wetzel. "We've actually had a couple of friends not wake up in the morning, due to the weather. And it's sad."

Wetzel's spent more than a decade in Chico with no permanent shelter. And when temperatures plunge below freezing, things go from tough to outright dangerous.

"How can you say to someone they don't have a right to be warm? And move them along at all hours, like the security guards do, knowing they can go home to their warm beds, and not even think twice about how maybe that person they moved along might not even wake up" said Wetzel.

During this very cold time of year, the non-profit "Safe Space" will set up as an emergency shelter. But they only have capacity for about 60 people.

"They understand it's cold! You need to be in somewhere, regardless. They offer the roof to sleep - there's no showers, they feed you, and then it's bedtime" said Wetzel.

The simple service is enough - for those who make it in.

"This year for the first time since we've been operating, someone died while we were open - it was a previous guest which made it even more personal. But every year, the weeks before and after we open, we see people dying on the street," said Rick Narad, a Safe Space shelter operations manager.

The city of Chico's never set up an emergency shelter - and the city manager says that may something for the county to decide.

"As far as declaring a cold catastrophe, which it is, they haven't done that. Contrast that with Sacramento where they had 2 or 3 people die right outside of city hall and the mayor immediately opened a cold shelter for a few weeks at least, to get people through the worst part of the winter," sad Narad.

Nonetheless, the Torres Shelter still has room for about 15 more people, but there's a sobriety requirement that makes it hard for some qualify, especially when the weather turns so suddenly.

"It's a survival thing, not even a human thing anymore. It's just ... 'I have to survive'. Can you blame someone for wanting to be warm?" wonders Wetzel.

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