CHICO — Nearly six months after the Chico City Council approved an alternative homeless campsite at Cohasset and Eaton roads, the corner continues to grow in population.
The city announced in August that it was aware of eight people staying at the site, which City Manager Mark Sorensen said has grown to 16 as understood by the city.
At the site, the number of people there as of Tuesday seems to be closer to 20, though it is unclear if all are living there, visiting or passing through.
Tents weatherized with cardboard and blankets for insulation keep between a 6- and 12-foot distance from one another. Being so close to the airport, loud planes frequently fly overhead throughout the day, though the noise seems to be less frequent at night, which is when more cars drive by with horns blaring, according to many of the residents.
Even during the day, at least two motorists hit their horns passing by Tuesday.
Sorensen said the only other site approved by the city is a lot across Cohasset Road which is to be used should the current one reach full capacity. Early in the process of choosing alternative sites, there was some talk of a time limit in which people could stay at the site. Sorensen said that the parameter for how long hasn’t been established yet.
Those staying at the corner of Eaton and Cohasset have had to learn to adapt to dramatic weather, food and water shortages and uncertain, but often hopeful, futures. Four of the people living there shared their stories.
Sharing on TikTok
Ashley Threewit and Kevin Leeson are fighting the struggles of homelessness directly from their tent and documenting every step through social media.
Threewit created a TikTok account that focuses on both tips for survival in homelessness as well as mental health advocacy.
The married couple became homeless after Threewit had a severe falling out with her mother and subsequently spent time in multiple camps, eventually ending up at the site specified by the city of Chico at Eaton and Cohasset roads.
Both Threewit and Leeson said the location, in their month and a half of staying there, has been safer than previous camps, but still comes with its share of verbal abuse and noise from those driving by. Threewit said at least one person has been shooting at the tents and parked cars with a pellet gun, but with little to no information, it can be difficult for police to track down these drivers.
“We do experience regular harassment from cars driving by,” Threewit said. “We don’t know the names of anybody. And it’s always too fast for us to get the information down. You will get a lot of yelling, a lot of obscenities. Sometimes people will just lay on the horn as they drive by the lot.”
Threewit said around the time the election got close, one man continuously drove by with an airhorn shouting at the residents to get out of Chico.
Before coming to the Eaton Road camp, Leeson and Threewit spent time at other locations which they described as less safe than where they are now. When they were still learning the different laws pertaining to homelessness and where people can stay, they accidentally camped on what ended up being state property.
“A (Butte County Sheriff’s Office) deputy there was kind enough to inform us that if you’re on the bike path, that’s the city, but if you’re on state property, you’re going to get ticketed,” Threewit said. “He was very kind about it and just trying to inform us so we can stay out of trouble.”
Threewit said that while they were staying on portions of the bike path, there was a group of people who lived in the area that told them the path was private property and eventually threatened to cut their tent open.
“That was the last time we ever stayed there because we made it a goal to try to find something like this,” Threewit said of the spot at Eaton Road.
Leeson said they’ve had a hard time trying to get referrals to the city’s Pallet shelter.
“It’s been very difficult to get referrals,” Leeson said. “We’ve talked to Chico police on several occasions and they might tell us what we need to do, but we’re told that they’re the ones that issue the referrals but they’re not giving them to us.”
Threewit said she’s been working on coming up with tips for homeless people which she has shared through TikTok and plans to continue providing them. Tips include making food last and how to insulate tents with cardboard — a resource she said is much needed at the site.
Another item that Threewit said was suggested to them by Cal Fire was small grills that can be used for heat and cooking that have low fire risk.
Much of the camp’s food supply has been provided by the Hope Commons Church among other donors, Threewit said.
Housing voucher hope
Myomi Hammond’s pickup is parked adjacent to the camp’s entrance with its hood up and some items placed atop the cab.
Hammond said her fuel pump failed, leaving the vehicle non-operational. She stays in the truck’s bed beneath a shell with her boyfriend and three dogs, one of which she will need to put up for adoption should she be able to move into a low-income apartment in the near future.
Her son has been helping her get approved for a housing voucher, which she recently received and has a chance of moving into a two-bedroom, possibly in the coming weeks.
Hammond has only resided at the Eaton Road site for about a week and a half and said that while it has overall felt safe, she has dealt with some theft during that time.
“It’s been pretty mellow for the most part,” Hammond said. “Have had a lot of things stolen, but I don’t believe it’s from people that are here, it’s the people that are coming from out there.”
Hammond has experienced homeless before. She had a home for four years before returning to homelessness after her rent went up beyond what she could pay. Hammond was able to get by until earlier this month when she, knowing she was facing homelessness either way, decided to leave her apartment willingly rather than have an eviction on her record.
Over the years, Hammond has been researching nonprofits with the goal of eventually helping establish one that could provide funding for case management for homeless people to help them get the things they need to survive and hopefully leave the situation they are in.
“There needs to be more money for case managers,” Hammond said. “They need more money to bring people out into the street to start making their clients trust them because without trust, everyone around here is worried about going to jail or getting in trouble or doing this or that. That’s what it boils down to, trust.”
A tent next to family
After a dispute with his former roommates, Dillon Kesterson was unable to afford a place by himself and ended up at the Eaton Road site because his mom and dad were staying in a tent there.
According to Kesterson, the falling out occurred when he left to visit his mom but did not return soon enough back to his apartment.
Since then, Kesterson has been working to get himself and his parents out of the site, he said.
The 22-year-old said one of the hardest parts for him has been the lack of proper clothes for the weather, adding that a friend of his is keeping most of his stuff at a house in Willows for when he has space for it again.
“It’s cold out here,” Kesterson said. “I barely have any pants and no money. There’s no way to do laundry.”
Kesterson keeps a tent near his parents’ that stands low to the ground. His large dog accidentally made a hole in the side of it that he now keeps covered with cardboard.
Since arriving at the site, most of his attention has been spent taking care of his parents.
Kesterson said he is still hoping to get money from a homelessness-related lawsuit to help jump-start his family’s lives again and allow them to put a down payment on a house.