Redding's Jessica Delaney
By Laura Christman
Home FrontAugust 2015
By Laura Christman
Photos: Jeannine Hendrickson
Jessica Delaney has a lengthy job title: City of Redding and Shasta County Homeless Continuum of Care Council Coordinator.
More simply: a leader in helping. The 41-year-old heads a collaborative effort to end homelessness. That’s a huge challenge, but it’s not Delaney’s only leadership effort. She also is active in Redding Elks. She was exalted ruler last year – only the second woman to hold the top job in Redding.
“She is an extremely bright, articulate lady,” says longtime Redding Elks board member Mary Payne. She says Delaney considers various perspectives and is able “to balance things for the good of all.”
Balancing is something Delaney does quite a bit. A single mom with a 16-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, her Homeless Continuum of Care job involves coordination with several nonprofits and charities and contracting as a consultant for Redding and Shasta County.
“We have a lot of groups involved that touch homelessness, poverty or mental illness,” Delaney says.
She coordinates meetings, compiles data required for federal housing monies and other funding, and oversees a one-day homeless census every January. Last summer, Delaney visited homeless camps with Redding Police through a project to gain a better picture of who was living there and why.
“The ultimate goal was to connect resources available with those hard-to-reach populations, and to connect law enforcement with our service providers,” Delaney says.
Police Chief Robert Paoletti praised Delaney’s community connections. “She is doing her best to get everyone working in the same direction,” he says. He also appreciates Delaney’s commitment to work toward solving homelessness, not enabling it.
“It’s not my goal to make homelessness comfortable,” Delaney says. “I am very passionate about wanting to see the number of homeless individuals decreasing.”
The homeless label covers people living in camps, motels, automobiles, shelters and on the couches of friends. Poverty, drug abuse and mental illness are among the reasons people end up homeless.
She works to connect homeless people with services – housing assistance, job skills, drug rehabilitation, mental health care.
“We need to be connecting to things available in this community so we can be a healthier community,” she says.
Shelter workers, food bank volunteers, receptionists and mental health providers are among the many working hard to make things better, Delaney says. “I can’t say enough about the champions who do outreach every day.”
Delaney coordinates Project Healthy Community (formerly Project Homeless Connect) at the Redding Civic Auditorium. The one-day event – Sept. 1 this year – typically draws 1,000 people struggling with poverty, although many are not homeless, Delaney says. Haircuts, eye exams, hygiene items and assistance with identification cards, veteran benefits, child care and other services are offered.
Those who volunteer are moved by the gratitude of those helped, Delaney says. “It is a very heartwarming, very touching and moving experience.”
Delaney grew up in Redding, attending Shasta Elementary, Sequoia Middle and Shasta High schools and Shasta College.
“Ever since I was a kid, I had a heart for those who struggle,” she says.
At age 19, she got a job at Shasta County Opportunity Center helping the developmentally disabled. She coached Special Olympics swimming and worked in a group home for women with disabilities. Delaney was with Northern Valley Catholic Social Service for 15 years doing different jobs, including working in programs to help families in hotels and individuals with mental illness. She has been coordinator of Homeless Continuum of Care since 2010.
Delaney joined Redding Elks a few years ago following an invitation to visit the pool with her children. She envisioned a retreat and place to be anonymous, but within a year she was lodge chaplain. Delaney is drawn to decision-making roles and liked leading the lodge last year as exalted ruler.
“It was like a full-time evening job. I really enjoyed it. They sent me all over,” she says.
The walls of the Redding lodge, which was chartered in 1908, feature decades of photographs of exalted rulers, often also community leaders. Delaney says she’s honored to have her photograph join the long line of people drawn to leadership and commitment to community. “I cannot find one certain commonality that would be a thread between all homeless individuals,” Delaney says. “Every single person I’ve encountered has a big mess on their hands.”