There’s an old saying, “when one door closes another one opens.” The loss of the winter shelter at the fairgrounds in 1997 was the door that closed; the Torres Community Shelter is the door that opened.
Until 1997, the Salvation Army operated a winter only shelter at the fairgrounds but when the building at the fairgrounds was rented out to a charter school, homeless advocates in Chico were forced to look for an alternate. In 1997 the City Council formed the Great Chico Homeless Task Force (GCHTF) and tasked it with finding an alternative location for a mass shelter. The GCHTF was unable to find a suitable location by the following winter, so in cooperation with the Salvation Army, the GCHTF operated a hotel based shelter during the coldest months of the year. In 1998 the GCHTF formed the non-profit Chico Community Shelter Partnership (CCSP) to raise funds in support of shelter services. The CCSP worked with the Chico Area Interfaith Council (CAIC) and the Community Action Agency (CAA) to develop a rotating model with CAA acting as our fiscal agent and CAIC helping to develop the relationships we would need to enter into our next stage.
In December 1998, emergency shelter services shifted from a hotel based service to a service that provided shelter at many of the local churches; each church hosted the emergency shelter for 2 weeks, then CCSP board members and volunteers would pack up the mattresses and other equipment and move it to the next host church. This model was used to provide emergency shelter until 2003.
During this time Coleen Jarvis, Andy Holcombe, Mary Goloff (then Flynn) and others worked to identify a property that could be used as a shelter. After an exhaustive search, CCSP located a vacant parcel of land off of Silver Dollar Way. In June 2001, the Chico City Council authorized the City Manager to obtain the parcel and enter into an agreement with CCSP to lease the land as a permanent home for the shelter.
It was in these early years that Tim Torres became involved with CCSP. Tim served as the shelter’s first director, at first a volunteer position but eventually it turned into a paid role. Having had been homeless himself, a result of his substance addictions, Tim had firsthand experience with the myriad issues faced by those without a home. He was an inspiration to everyone involved in the shelter project. Part of Tim’s legacy at the shelter was his belief that in order to provide shelter for people, it wasn’t just about a building. It was about opening doors and opening hearts. It was about future, not past. Tim passed away shortly before the construction of the facility could be completed and to acknowledge Tim’s tireless efforts on behalf of people who are homeless, the CCSP board decided to name the facility after him. Since then, the organization CCSP has become better known as the Torres Community Shelter.
In 2002 the Shelter’s Director, Tami Ritter, successfully secured a $500,000 grant from the State of California to construct an emergency shelter on the property at Silver Dollar Way; this was matched with $160,000 in personal donations from members of the community. In November 2002, construction of the Torres Community Shelter began; it took four months to complete construction. The doors officially opened on St. Patrick’s Day – March 17th.
In 2008, the Torres Shelter lost a major portion of its funding when it was unsuccessful in obtaining a $200,000 grant from the state of California. Serious consideration was given to dissolving the CCSP and transferring responsibility for operating the shelter to another local agency, but the community of Chico stepped up with the assistance of the North Valley Community Foundation and the “Shelter Our Neighbors” campaign and the shelter remained open. In May of 2009, Brad Montgomery was hired as the Executive Director.
Since 2009, the Torres Community Shelter has expanded twice in order to keep up with the ever increasing demand to help more men, women and families with children out of homelessness.