An inhumane rush job

Next week the City Council will take a look at a new ordinance that criminalizes homelessness

Chico’s waterways need help. We know this because we’ve seen the trash accumulating in the riparian regions from encampments established by homeless individuals. It’s an environmental issue as well as a public health issue, considering cleanup crews have had to remove toxic debris, including hypodermic needles.

Something needs to be done. There’s no question about that. What is questionable, however, is Chico Vice Mayor Sean Morgan’s directive last week that city staff come back to the council’s next meeting (Tuesday, Sept. 15) with a “comprehensive ordinance” that makes it easier for local law enforcement officials to issue citations to campers (see Howard Hardee’s report on page 8). They’d be able to do so on the spot, rather than having to catch someone actually sleeping (the current requirement).

We are concerned about the legal ramifications for the city, since we’re effectively talking about criminalizing homelessness. We’re also disappointed in the council for its unprecedented step of voting unanimously to bring back a draft ordinance in such a short time frame. Why not make this a discussion item and invite the public and various stakeholders to weigh in on it?

Our biggest problem with such an effort, however, is that it doesn’t address the root of the issue. We don’t hear any offer of support for this marginalized population. If the city wants to crack down on illegal camping, it must offer alternatives. So far, we’re seeing none—and sadly, no compassion.

The real goal of such a punitive measure is to make it as uncomfortable as possible for homeless people to live in Chico so that they will move on to another town, becoming somebody else’s problem. Where’s the humanity in that?