By Eduardo Madrigal
Flapjack Chronicle Staff
Local philanthropist Betty Chinn is excited right now. If all goes according to plan, in spring 2013 a new day center for the homeless will be opened in the corner of 7th and C Street in Eureka.
The day center is a joint effort between Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.
Chinn, who works with several local organizations such as Humboldt State clubs, local churches and other charity organizations, is known to run a busy schedule every day from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m..
“We don’t see as much of each other as we used to,” said Betty’s husband Dr. Leung Chinn, 75, retired physics professor from Humboldt State who helps her every day. “But it’s okay. We are both doing what we like to do.”
The Chinns find themselves performing their charitable service alone for the most part even though there is a large pool of willing volunteers. But Chinn described herself as “picky” when it comes to receiving volunteer help.
“It’s because of my name being out there,” said Chinn. “They only want to volunteer because of my name. I want them to volunteer because they have a passion for the poor. That’s more meaningful for a volunteer.”
Catholic Charities shares this passion.
Chuck Fernandez, executive director of Catholic Charities, believes Catholic Charities and the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation will be successful because they share the same mission.
“Love, hope, dignity, respect, we have the same values and I believe that’s why we can see eye to eye,” said Fernandez. “I trust Betty completely and I know she trusts us.”
The charity partnership consists of the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation contracting Catholic Charities to hire professionals to provide management and operations of the day center and provide case management, workshops on domestic violence, parenting and employment.
“We will provide systems and processes for her,” said Fernandez. “Betty can’t do this forever, if she can’t be there for the people one day, we’ll make sure to have somebody there that can.”
Betty Chinn will continue using what Fernandez call, her “remarkable street outreach” to do what she does best.
“She is so spontaneous and in the moment, we won’t stop that, we want to continue that and support her,” said Fernandez.
Betty Chinn will continue to make and provide meals and take homeless children to school. But she will also keep an eye open.
“If I see somebody who is willing to change I’ll direct them to the center,” said Chinn.
Fernandez sees this partnership as a great milestone for Catholic Charities which has had to renovate and transform throughout the years by pointing out which programs help them to better reach their goals.
“We have seen how giving someone an income helps them move forward so we have improved our employment program,” said Fernandez. “Every month we help 15 to 17 homeless people get a job.”
By changing aspects, their philosophy has also changed throughout the years.
“We changed our philosophy, first it was giving them a bed and a meal, now it is giving them a hand up to help them move forward,” said Fernandez. “We have had to let people go because they did not follow our philosophy. Giving somebody a four-wall room does not help them to move forward.”
Betty Chinn agrees that a system is needed to help people leave homelessness.
“I feed them, I love them, I clothe them, I shower them and I make them look like a human being, but I cannot lift them up without a program,” said Chinn. “But Catholic Charities has the program, and that is why we are going in that direction right now.”
Fernandez acknowledged that not everyone wants or needs help.
If you can’t help them move forward, because not everybody wants to, we strive to at least give them dignity and respect,” said Fernandez.
Lynn Khoury, ex-trucker who lives behind a parking lot in Eureka, has heard about the new day center but also believes it’s not for everyone.
“Not all of us want to leave,” said Khoury. “I’m kind of here on purpose. I was a truck driver and I got tired. I just wanted to live a simpler life. I like living outdoors but there are people who want to get off the streets who aren’t here by choice.”
Robert Freeman, 73, retired, who lives in the neighborhood, was optimistic about the day center.
“Some say it will bring more homeless,” said Freeman. “I think it will do the opposite by taking them off the streets and giving them a place to be.”
And that is what the day center is all about.
“We have to start where the client is,” said Fernandez. “It’s not about me or the case manager. We have to meet the homeless client where he or she is.”