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An update on the temporary shelter program at Third and Commercial Streets in Eureka: GECOP Mid-term report.pdf

By Hunter Cresswell, [email protected]
Posted: 06/20/16, 1:08 AM PDT

In the month and a half the Greater Eureka Community Outreach Program temporary transitional shelter has been open, 18 residents found full time jobs, seven found permanent housing, three enrolled in drug abuse counseling services, one enrolled at College of the Redwoods and nine received help getting state identification or birth certificates.

The shelter was started by a partnership between Betty Chinn of the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation and the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights. It uses retrofitted metal shipping containers to temporarily house up to 40 of the about 135 people evicted from the Palco Marsh in early May and is located in the Mercer-Fraser lot at the corner of West 3rd and Commercial streets in Eureka.

“I never expected it to be this way,” Chinn said. “I feel so blessed.”

HumCPR Executive Director Alec Ziegler shared her sentiment.

“I think everyone involved is pleased with the result,” he said. “It is mostly due to Betty Chinn and her day center.”

Chinn said shelter staff and her staff have worked very hard to connect homeless people to services and training that help them gain independence and necessary skills to re-enter society. She added that she credited the program’s success not only to staff, but to community involvement as well.

“It’s just amazing. I have people come to me looking for somebody,” Chinn said about how she finds jobs for people.

Business owners who need staff and are interested in hiring one of Chinn’s shelter residents can contact her at the day center by calling 707-407-3833.

“… .it has been gratifying to see the program be so successful. The results of people getting jobs, paying taxes, and finding direction for their own lives are encouraging, and most importantly residents are being treated in a compassionate and humane manner,” GECOP President Lee Ulansey said in a GECOP press release.

The wait list to get into the shelter is over 30 names long and 19 women and 17 men along with 22 dogs currently reside there. But not everyone in the shelter is a success story: five people left the program on their own terms and two have been kicked out due to rules violations.

“Some people don’t want to change,” Chinn said.

One person left on their own but decided to come back and apologized to Chinn for leaving.

“I let them come back. Why not?” Chinn said. “I say, ‘You don’t do it for me, you do it for yourself.’ ”

Staffing company Express Employment Professionals conducts on-site seminars to provide employment training and skill evaluations for shelter residents. The 22 dogs also get help from ongoing obedience courses given by a professional trainer. A community garden was installed that will be used for flowers as well as produce for residents, the release said.

Getting these few people jobs and off the streets is only the beginning, Ziegler said.

“We’re hoping to continue what we’re doing and moving as many people into better situations as we can,” he said.

The shelter was proposed and approved to be active for six months. Chinn said she plans on keeping it open at least until November but couldn’t say if she would try to extend it beyond that.

“After six months, then I think about it,” she said.

Contact Hunter Cresswell at 707-441-0506.

Several years ago, when Japan had the big tsunami and our Humboldt coasts were threatened with a tsunami of our own, Betty was contacted by a local landowner. This landowner offered to let Betty use some of his property to immediately move some of the homeless people to higher, safer ground. Betty accepted his offer with gratitude, and acting on instinct, she quickly moved over 100 people to higher ground, where they stayed for about a month. The situation worked out well for everyone, and the landlord offered to let Betty use his property in the future when there was a need.

In early September of 2015, Betty acted on her instincts once again. She knew she needed to do something to help the single men and women that were living in the PALCO marsh and Del Norte pier areas. Because of some activities going on there, over 100 of these people had been coming to her saying they were scared. They didn’t feel safe trying to live there any more, and wanted to get out.

Betty knew she had property available for her to use, but she didn’t have a plan, just her instincts. She started asking each of the people that had approached her three questions: Do you want to move? If you want to move with me, can you follow the rules that will be there? What will you contribute each day, because you can’t just sit around?

Betty knew twenty of these people well. She took these men and women aside the next day and talked with them. She said they would have to learn to be independent if they moved to this property, and support each other, because she couldn’t be there all of the time. She would provide their food and their needs, but she needed people she could trust to provide the leadership. It didn’t mean they had any power over anyone else. She just needed them to be her eyes and ears when she wasn’t there. Betty told each of them that if they wanted to do this, then she would first have them move in with former homeless people for two to four weeks. They needed to disconnect from their homeless identity, build up their self-esteem, and learn how to believe in themselves and make good judgment calls.

The next day, when she talked with this group, 18 out of 20 of them felt like they were ready to be leaders, and were willing to move in with a host family, live by their rules, and contribute to the household. The other two were honest and said they didn’t feel like they were ready. Betty thanked them for their honesty, understanding that it was a fear of failing that held them back. She told them they could still come and help when the time came, helping them feel good about their honesty, and knowing their own limits. So Betty moved 18 people in with host families for two weeks, while she was out of town. After the first week, two of them moved out, questioning their ability to be leaders. But the rest stuck with it.

When Betty returned, she checked in with the host families to see how the other 16 individuals did. She noticed that each person had changed a lot. In just two weeks, they had gained self-confidence and independence. Then Betty had all 20 of these people stay for a week by themselves on the property. They met with the landowner, and Betty met with the neighbors, letting them know what would be happening.

After a week, she brought the first group of 45 people up to the property. The landowner provided two B&B toilets. Betty provided brand new tents, sleeping bags and pads. She wanted this to feel like a fresh start for each of these people. Betty went around and talked with each person, asking them questions, and she had a helper record their names and their answers. She asked them:
1. How long have you been in Humboldt County?
2. Why are you here?
3. What is your plan?
4. Where did you come from?
5. Do you want to go home?

One week later she asked each person the same questions again. If an individual still wanted to go home, Betty started making phone calls to social services and nonprofits in each of their hometowns. She asked if they had a place to put someone, if Betty provided the bus ticket home. She told them to look her up on the Internet, to know that she was sincere, and then call her back if they wanted to help her. In the first six weeks, at least 38 people went home to organizations in their own cities. At first, Betty called weekly to check up on them. Then she called bi-weekly, and now she calls every three weeks, just so they know someone still cares about them. No one has returned yet.

In October, the weather turned really bad, and Betty added 40 more people to the newly formed community on the property. Now there were over 100 people there. And things were going really well. The camp was very peaceful, they kept the place clean, and kept to a routine. They felt secure, there was no need to hide, no yelling, and they could get a good night’s sleep. Everyone looked for a job, too. If Betty found an employer, people would leave the property and come into town to fill out applications.

Many of the people got jobs. As they found work, three to four people would group together by their own choosing, and move into a place together. One man held a job for four months, and told Betty that he had finally earned enough to return to Florida. He knew he could have asked Betty for a bus ticket, but he wanted to earn it himself. Betty told the landowner this story, and he cried. He was amazed at how the people living on the property supported each other. Betty had once again helped create a sense of community among the homeless, and they were blossoming.

While all of this was going on, Betty was experiencing a lot of anxiety, wondering what she had done. She had no budget to feed these people that were now dependent on her, and no time. She had put this on her own shoulders, acting on instinct, without a plan. Betty’s December fundraiser to help purchase a Family Shelter building was also underway. It was very hard to help deal with the details of the fundraiser when she had an additional 100 people that were dependent on her every day. Yet, when total strangers from the community started stepping up to help out with the fundraiser, Betty’s morale was really boosted. Knowing that people believed in what she was doing gave her courage, inspired her, and helped her learn to believe in herself.

Currently, in early February of 2016, there are only 21 people left living at the camp. Betty figures that she will be able to close down the camp within a month. She believes that this whole experience happened at the right time, in the right place. It has taught her, as well as many of the people that moved to the camp, that you have to believe in yourself and follow your heart. Betty showed them, through example, that you have to take action to make changes. We each have the power to change our own life. But having people that believe in us makes it a whole lot easier.



The Eureka Knights of Columbus will be hosting a fundraiser to help Betty to fund her next project, a traditional housing and respite care center, next door to the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center.

Wine, cheese, and appetizers will be served, along with live music by Mike Craghead, a Silent Auction, and a Live Auction with Rex Bohn.

Tickets $20, available at Picky Picky Picky or the Betty Chinn Day Center in Eureka, Arcata Exchange on the Arcata Plaza, or Beverage Plus in Fortuna.

Families Reborn

Last May, Police Chief Mills was talking with Betty about cleaning up the area behind the Bayshore Mall, where many homeless people camp. The chief asked Betty how many children lived out there. After this conversation, Betty decided to act on instinct and quickly move as many families as possible out of this area.

At the time, Betty said she had no idea what a big job she was taking on. She was fortunate to have funding from local churches to help pay for deposits and first months’ rent for these families, and landlords willing to rent apartments to her. Betty acted on faith, knowing she had the support of the community to make this possible.

With the help of a dedicated volunteer and some HSU students with trucks, Betty and her crew moved a total of 27 families into permanent housing within the course of a week. Each family was allowed to select what furniture and household goods they needed from Betty’s donated items. Betty said it was very emotional to watch these people struggle to figure out what they would need to build their own home. 20 out of the 27 families had never had a house of their own. Betty offered no advice, but instead told each family,“You have to build your own house. If I help you, then it is my house, and you are a guest in my house.”

The first months were the hardest on everyone. During the first month, Betty required that each family cut off all connections with their homeless friends. She asked them to focus on their own family, and figure ou tif this was the life they wanted. They were not allowed to smoke inside, and if they had a pet, they had to give it up. (One family failed miserably, feeling like they were in jail and had lost their freedom.) Betty spent an enormous amount of her own time and energy supporting these families, both emotionally and physically. She provided food for them, and took them shopping, helping them learn how to cook, and budget their money. Betty required that each family sit at the dinner table each night, spending time together. For many of the families, this was the first time they had ever spent time together as a family, and it was a challenge for them to learn how to sit together, seeing each other’s clean faces.

Betty said, “Watching their transformations during this first month was so painful. There was a lot of anxiety. They didn’t trust themselves or believe that they could do this. On the streets, when they were filthy, they could say whatever they wanted, because nobody listened. Now that they were cleaned up, people listened to them, and it was terrifying. What if they failed? When I saw a grown man crying, because he was afraid of failing…it was so hard. I wondered whether I was torturing them or helping them. Each time I left them I would cry, wondering if I was doing the right thing.”

Betty stopped by and checked on each family at least twice a week. She encouraged them to come up with a plan. But without Betty coming by to visit them, the families admitted that they wouldn’t have followed through with their plans. They knew that Betty had done so much for them, and they didn’t want to disappoint her. They needed guidance, someone that cared about them and held them accountable during this transition.

By the fourth month, Betty started seeing real progress in their transitions. She could see that the families wanted a better life, and were learning new skills. They were now hanging up their clothes, cooking their own dinners, and making their beds.  When she left after a visit, she could see a difference in their smiles. Three of the families were able to pay back both the deposit and their first month’s rent.

Six months later, nine of the families have been able to pay Betty back. None of the families want to be homeless any more.  22 of the families now have at least one parent working full time. Betty didn’t tell them to get a job.  They found the jobs themselves. Four of the families have part-time jobs, and may need assistance, due to anxiety or medical conditions. Each family now sits together at meals, and they have learned how to budget for themselves. Only one family has a T.V.

Betty said this has been the hardest thing she has ever done. She had no idea what she was in for when she acted on instinct back in May. “I never would have guessed the anxiety and struggle these people would go through. They had lost all faith in themselves. I give them a lot of credit. In a sense, they are ‘reborn’ in learning how to trust themselves.”  It took a lot of tough love. Betty couldn’t feel sorry for them. She had to help them learn how to rebuild their hope, and learn how to believe in themselves.

NewBldg Trust is the key ingredient here. Because each family trusted Betty, and knew that she believed in them, they learned to believe in themselves as individuals, and as a family. Betty supported them as a friend, helping them through the difficult transitions. They weren’t just another client on an overburdened case load. It was the personal connection, and Betty’s trust, that gave each family the strength to go forward when they didn’t think they could. Because Betty acted on her instincts, and invested many hours of love and support, over 100 people (including the children) have had their lives changed for the better.

This experience gave Betty the idea to open her own Family Shelter, providing temporary housing, respite care, and mentoring to families while they get back on their feet. This building will provide temporary housing for up to 14 families, furthering Betty’s mission of giving every person a second chance, and ending the cycle of homelessness, one family at a time. The Eureka Knights of Columbus are currently planning a fundraising event for Betty, with the goal of purchasing the building next door to the Betty Chinn Day Center and creating a place for families to transition out of homelessness.


During this past school year, Betty mentored twenty high school seniors that were homeless, from Fortuna to McKinleyville.  She picked them up early each morning, took them to shower, provided clean clothes and a quiet place to do their homework, then transported them to school.  The exciting news is that this fall, all twenty of these students will be attending out-of-state, four-year universities!  Betty is very proud of each of them.

The new school year is rapidly approaching, and Betty is in need of 40 good-quality backpacks for local high school students, and more backpacks for elementary and middle-school students, too. Also needed are high-school-appropriate graphing calculators (TI-83, etc) and other general school supplies.

If you are able to help provide any of these items, please drop off your donation at the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center, 133 7th Street, in Eureka.

The Center is open to adults from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.  A big thank you to those supporters who help Betty with her school start-up project every year!

This is a story about second chances, and several community members that have helped give people a second chance at life. A homeless young man (we’ll call him ‘Jack’) that Betty knew had a minor legal problem that he just never could get himself to take care of.  He suffered from depression, and even though the legal matter weighed heavy on him, he just didn’t have the energy to face going to the County Courthouse to deal with it. Eventually his depression became so debilitating that he was placed on SSI disability.

Betty suggested to Jack that he clear up his legal issue by going to the Homeless Court held at St. Vincent de Paul’s dining facility, but he kept putting it off. Betty had learned about homeless court just a few months before, from a local woman named Suzie Van Kirk, who is a homeless court advocate. Many homeless people are uncomfortable appearing at the Courthouse. With Homeless Court, Judge Feeney goes to the people, at various locations, instead of making them come to him.

Unable to get beyond his depression, Jack missed his first homeless court appearance date.  But Betty kept insisting that he really needed to clear his record. She went with him to the next homeless court session, and Judge Feeney decided to give Jack a second chance by clearing his record, and giving him 20 hours of community service.  For people that can’t pay fines, this allows them to pay back their community and get a fresh start in life.

Once Jack had cleared his record, Betty got him a yard-work job. She hadn’t been willing to let him work for anyone until his legal record was cleared. Jack felt good about earning his own money, and he enjoyed the work. After this experience, he felt like he could earn his own way in life, rather than receiving SSI. He started getting day jobs and various yard work jobs, earning good money. He began feeling better about himself, which changed his expectations for his life. Jack decided to go back to school.

This year Jack graduated from HSU, and invited Betty to attend his graduation. While watching the graduation ceremonies, Betty was struck by the idea that everyone has a gift to reach out to someone, and change their life. Judge Feeney had given Jack (and many other homeless individuals) a second chance in life by helping him clear his record, so he could earn his own way in life. Jack had no family. The seed of hope had been buried deep inside of him, under layers of depression. Fortunately for Jack, the compassion of a local judge helped that seed within begin to sprout.

Betty is honored to have Judge Feeney hold homeless court at the Day Center. It takes a community of people, looking at life from different angles, to help lift people up. Everyone has a gift to reach out to someone, and change their life.  Your gift may be very different than someone else’s, but you’ll never know the power of your gift to change a life if you don’t offer it. Everyone deserves a second chance. Don’t be afraid to reach out!

by Lisa Bethune, January 20, 2015

Wednesday, November 19, 2014, was forecast to be the beginning of several days of intense rain, with dire flooding forecast throughout the Humboldt county area. Betty knew that many of the homeless people she cared for lived in wetland areas that would most likely end up flooding. She went to each of the camps, and at each camp, the group decided who would stay and watch over the camp, and who needed to go to higher ground with Betty. When Betty was finished, she had 134 people that needed a place to stay.

At 5:00 a.m., Betty made two phone calls to former homeless people that she had helped get housing and jobs two years prior. She told them that she needed help, that she had a lot of people that needed housing during the storms, and she had no where to put them. They told Betty that they would see what they could do. They started making phone calls, and every hour they reported back to Betty, giving her addresses of other former homeless people that were willing to take people in, putting them up in either an extra room or their garage. By 11:00 a.m. they had found 40 places. By 2:00 they had found a total of 51 host families, enough to fill the need for all 134 people. One family took in seven people. When Betty objected, saying that was too much, the family told her, “Remember, this happened to us a year ago.” They set up their garage and put some of the people in there.

As Betty and others delivered people to homes from Fortuna to McKinleyville, she told each person that they had to follow the host’s rules. She told the hosts that if at any point it wasn’t working, they could call her and she would come pick the people up. Betty thought that this arrangement would be needed for about a week, but it ended up lasting for more than a month, as the rains continued.

During this time, Betty visited the different homes, offering to help the host families with extra food and money for utilities. Betty has always said that God knows what she needs and He provides it. Unbeknownst to Betty, St. Bernard’s school was in the middle of their first canned food drive for her, and the abundance of canned food they collected was delivered to her during this time, just when she needed it most.

While Betty checked on her clients, many of which have mental illness or medical needs, she noticed that many of their personalities and physical appearances had changed a lot while staying in a stable place. Betty was surprised to see that even if someone had a mental issue, they could stay in a house, help out and keep it clean. Most of these people had never lived a normal life, in a clean house. They had had no guidance in the past, growing up in very dysfunctional families. Her clients were being mentored in a way that only someone who had walked in their shoes could. Betty knew she was witnessing such great human love, one to another, for this to be able to happen.

The host families were also teaching them how to budget their money so they could stay off of the streets. The host families didn’t want to have to send these people back to the streets, so they started looking for ways to help them succeed. As of mid-January, 54 out of the 134 people that Betty first moved now have permanent housing. Through word of mouth, the host families helped them find a room to rent or share, and taught them how they can manage to pay the rent each month. The twenty that have chosen to leave were told by their hosts that they are always welcome to come back.

There is nothing more powerful than human connection. These host families used their own experiences to teach their guests. They told Betty, “I’ve been in that place and you pulled me out. Now it is our turn to pay it back.” We all have the opportunity each day to plant seeds of human kindness, and we will never know when or how those seeds will blossom. With all of the sadness that Betty sees on the streets every day, this experience has fed her soul and recharged her batteries. Our gratitude and blessings to everyone that opened their hearts and their homes to people in need. We are nothing without community. You inspire us all!

Open House Today

“Today, the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center is hosting an open house from noon to 4 p.m. to celebrate its first anniversary. And there is much to celebrate: hundreds upon hundreds of lives improved, by offering Eureka’s homeless and impoverished a hand up instead of a handout.”
Eureka Times-Standard

Editorial: Betty Chinn’s lifelong dream pays off, in lives improved
Eureka Times-Standard

A year ago this week, Betty Chinn — the closest thing Eureka has to a living patron saint — began a new experiment on the corner of C and Seventh streets.

Today, the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center is hosting an open house from noon to 4 p.m. to celebrate its first anniversary. And there is much to celebrate: hundreds upon hundreds of lives improved, by offering Eureka’s homeless and impoverished a hand up instead of a handout.

The day center building, purchased by Catholic Charities with $500,000 donated by Fortuna native and Santa Rosa businessman Henry Trione, was extensively renovated by a team led by local developer and Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation board member Kurt Kramer. The foundation’s budget for its first year was about $220,000, part of which was contracted to go to Catholic Charities to pay for the center’s two paid employees, as well as administrative support and grant writing services.

As we detail on today’s front page, over the past year, the center has:

• served more than 1,200 clients;

• offered 400 clients on-site supportive services;

• assisted about 20 children on a regular basis with learning skills and socialization;

• and moved 11 of its program participants into housing and 13 into jobs from April through June alone.

Not a bad start for a philanthropist’s lifelong dream. Even more inspiring when you consider that it’s the culmination of a dream hatched from a nightmare.

Born into a life of relative privilege in China, Chinn at the age of 7 lost her home, her family, her childhood, even her voice to the violence of the Cultural Revolution, as enduring four years of persecution, torture and poverty left her mute and living day by day in a garbage dump. After walking 1,600 miles to escape to Hong Kong, she journeyed thousands upon thousands miles more to the United States, eventually moving to Eureka, regaining her voice, marrying, and raising a family along the way.

For most people, escaping the nightmare would have been enough. But for decades, Chinn made it her life’s mission to help out the least fortunate among us — bringing food to the hungry, clothes to the cold, and hope to the streets of Eureka.

It became her dream to do even more. Teaming up with the nonprofit Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Chinn asked the community to join her in the culmination of her life’s work — a one-stop services center that would help break the cycle of homelessness.

The Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center, at the corner of C and Seventh streets in Eureka, is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information or to find out how to donate, visit or call the center at 707-407-3833.

Needed right now:

  • WARM, weatherproof gloves: We need LOTS of these!  When your hands are cold, it’s impossible to warm up on these cold, cold nights!  Betty helps people whose hands are blue and stiff from the cold.
  • WARM jackets: For men, women, & children
  • WARM socks: Wool is best, but any dry socks are better than having to wear cold, wet ones!*
  • WARM sleeping bags
  • Insulating pads for sleeping on ground
  • Tents
  • Waterproof Tarps

* edit 2-12-2014: no more clothes needed at this time.
See our Needs page for how to donate. Thank you!

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