Hotel shelter program ends early, leaving some families on the street

CHICO — A program assisting unhoused people with shelter access ended earlier than expected causing 36 people occupying 26 rooms at the Town House Motel to be evicted by Nov. 30. Five of the parties could not find shelter within their 15-day eviction notice, and were given tents as last minute effort to house them by local shelters.

The Butte United Shelter Program was created in July 2021 by United Way of California and True North Shelter Team to protect unhoused people who have no option to self-quarantine by providing them temporary shelter and access to housing resources.

The program rented rooms at Town House Motel in Chico and other facilities in Oroville and was projected to do so until Jan. 31 2022, but funding ran out. Melody Proebstel is the senior director of Community Management at United Way and worked on the program.

“When we started this program we didn’t know there was going to be such a high need for shelter for people who were COVID positive and COVID exposed,” Proebstel said. “We had to open up a third location to be able to provide that space, and that ate up our funding just super fast.”

Proebstel said the project aimed to provide housing until through January, but that it was too expensive to be sustainable. United Way decided not to apply for more funding.

“We didn’t apply to extend this program because economically, it doesn’t work to pay for motel rooms,” said Proebstel. “At the end of this program there were 36 people in this motel. It’s just too expensive to pay for motel rooms on a long-term basis.”

Proebstel said there were opportunities for the people in the program to find a more permanent solution to housing, and several families had in fact moved out over time.

“Most of them had been there since June or July and had resources to be able to seek housing and we had funding to pay for housing if they found the option for that,” Proebstel said. 

Proebstel said the case managers working for the unhoused people who were recently evicted are working towards a more long term solution. 

“We were asked to help provide case management for those who were still there in the program, so that we can try to find last ditch efforts to find housing.” Crosby said, director at Caring Choices.

Crosby said they were notified to help the unhoused families on Nov. 15, just 15 days before the eviction date. Crosby was able to help out most of the tenants out with long term housing, but not everyone.

“Unfortunately some didn’t have housing lined up and had nowhere to go,” Crosby said. “We reached out to some of the homeless outreach programs from Chico and tried to secure  donations for tents for some of those people.”

Charles Withuhn, director of volunteers for North State Shelter Team, showed up at Town House Motel in Chico on Tuesday afternoon to provide the remaining families tents and supplies.

“Crosby sends me a text and says there are 5 families that were going to be on the street. She was curious if I could get three more tents,” Withuhn said. “The people were so stressed out it was hard for them to maintain their composure. The program of sobriety and being drug free amidst of heavy stress, you know. A lot of the people kick back to their old coping mechanisms.”

“I gave them each a tent, a North State Shelter Team business card, and an invitation to call me if the tent was defective. I wished them luck,” Withuhn said in an email. “It was a heartbreaking tragedy. It tore my heart out — it was a very difficult day and a difficult process.”

Crosby said she and her team will continue to work with people affected by the program’s closure.

“We really want to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks so we’re trying to provide follow up case management for those who were in the program that did not receive housing by the time the program ended,” Crosby said. “That is still our focus, is trying to work with people to get permanent housing.”

The Butte United Shelter Program was similarly structured to an existing program called Project Room Key signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom in March 2020. The Butte County Department of Employment and Social Services was managing Project Room Key until they contracted United Way of California to take over.

Don Taylor is the housing and homeless administrator for the Butte County Department of Employment and Social Services and worked with United Way on the contract.

“The hope was that it would be contracted through January, but it all depended upon the availability of funds,” Taylor said. “But as they invited people into the program and used the resources, it was imperative that it was not going to make it to January.”

“Like Project Room Key, I think the program did provide a benefit for unsheltered individuals and families for a period of time, and had the opportunity to work with case managers and get rapid rehousing assistance if they elected to take it,” Taylor said. “I think that it was great that it was offered for a period of time after Project Room Key ended.”

Proebstel said there were three shelters that took part in the Butte United Shelter Program, one of them being the Town House Motel. Proebstel said the two other shelters in Oroville, whose locations were not disclosed, will also be closing early.

“The non-congregate shelter will close in Oroville Dec. 31 and hopefully the other shelter will close Jan. 31,” Probstel said. We may be able to get some extra funding to continue to pay for that, but that’s a pretty severe need.”

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