Rev. Jason McMullen, of the Williams Community Church, and Ron McHattie, of First Presbyterian, in Colusa, asked the 44th District Agricultural Association at thier March for permission to work with Fairgrounds CEO Laura Ford to see if state property could legally be used to shelter people in a tent up to five nights while the Ministerial Association helps them find placement elsewhere.
“Most shelters are located out of the county,” McMullen said.
McMullen said the Ministerial Association is prepared to provide portable shelters, along with restroom with wash stations for Colusa those who find themselves immediately homeless, as well as transients and travelers who find themselves stranded with no place to stay.
“Rather than use hotels that range from $80 to $100 for one night, our association could provide tents for short-term stays when we are unable to find a shelter bed for the citizens in need.”
McMullen said the association recognizes that the fairgrounds would only be available for a temporary homeless shelter when the fairgrounds is not in use, but felt that the need is still there because homelessness has become such a chronic problem everywhere.
“In our work, we have found that the key to permanent housing is finding a temporary shelter where public services can be streamlined and readily available,” McMullen said.
The temporary shelter program would be part of a larger program, where the Ministerial Association would have a referral hotline. Volunteers from the Catholic Church would provide food from the two primary food banks in Williams and Colusa, and volunteers would also staff the temporary facility when in use, make contact with other resources, and provide transportation to outside shelters, if needed.
“We propose having no more than three to five family units, singles, or couples stay on fairground property, and no more than one to five days,” McMullen said.
While the Fair board authorized the Ministerial Association to work with Ford on the feasibility of such a program, members did have one major concern.
“What if they don’t leave?” Terry Bressler asked.
According to federal estimates, about a quarter of all homeless people in the nation live in California, totaling nearly 130,000 living on the street or in unauthorized tent cities on any given day. In Colusa alone, more than a dozen people are known to sleep in doorways, on school property, and near the river on any given night.
Colusa Unified School District officials reported that homeless individuals tried to escape notice at night by staying between the buildings at Burchfield Primary School, and have used the entryway to the fifth grade classrooms as a restroom.
McMullen and Ford agreed that anyone who refused to leave a tent shelter at the fairgrounds would likely result in law enforcement intervention by the California Highway Patrol, who has jurisdiction over the Colusa County Fairgrounds. ■