AARP CA honors advocate for people experiencing homelessness

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
Betty Kwan Chinn is this year's California recipient of the AARP Andrus Award for Community Service, which comes with a $1,000 grant for her foundation, dedicated to helping people experiencing homelessness. Photo Credit: Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation

Today AARP is honoring a California woman whose journey to the U.S. inspired her to open a shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

Betty Kwan Chinn escaped persecution and homelessness in China decades ago and fled to Hong Kong and then the U.S. Chinn said many people welcomed her with open arms, so she decided to find a way to give back.

“I tell myself somehow, sometimes, I will do something good for this country,” Chinn explained. “Because people are so kind to me.”

Chinn settled in Eureka and started feeding people experiencing homelessness out of her own pocket after noticing her son’s classmate was always hungry. Her nonprofit, the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation, now feeds 500 people per day. She oversees five shelters, including a small housing village made from old shipping containers, plus a day center with a commercial kitchen and wraparound services.

Chinn’s shelters employ 22 people and all but two are former clients, giving them a chance to pay it forward.

“I really like to volunteer,” Chinn noted. “I encourage anybody and get yourself the chance to do something for other people. You never know how you affect other people. Just look at me and give me a smile that affects my life.”

The AARP Andrus Award for Community Service honors people who exemplify the spirit of service of AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus.