Bah, humbug!

Cutting through misinformation about a local project—and homelessness in general—on the run-up to Christmas

I’d like to wax romantic about the spirit of the season and how quaint Chico is with all of the lights strung up above Main and Broadway and the candy canes hanging from the light posts. Ordinarily I’d be in a more festive mood.

What has me down this week is some of the reaction to last week’s cover story about a proposed tiny house village (see “Tiny houses, big potential,” by Meredith J. Cooper, Dec. 14), a concept the Chico Housing Action Team (aka CHAT) is floating in response to the fact that human beings are literally dying on the streets of Chico due to a lack of affordable housing.

I thought I’d take a few moments on the run-up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus—you know, that guy many believe made it his job to hang out with people who were largely considered the undesirables of society—to try to dispel some of the fake news that’s circulating around these parts in relation to this plan and to the homeless population in general.

First off, Chico’s homeless population doesn’t comprise a bunch of “transients.” As we’ve previously reported—based on the findings of the biennial countywide Point in Time Census and Survey, an official survey that helps the federal government gauge the scope of the problem throughout the nation—the vast majority of the individuals experiencing homelessness locally have lived here for more than three years. More than a third of them have lived here for at least 20 years. In other words, they aren’t travelers looking for handouts. These are locals who are having a rough go.

More fake news: The proposed tiny house community, Simplicity Village, is just another local “freebie” program. Not so. As reported in the story, the plan is for residents to pay a reasonable amount of rent as a way to be invested in the community—and themselves. They also would have to pass a background check as part of the application process.

Both of the above misnomers go hand in hand with the false narrative that legions of indigent people from around the nation seek out Chico because the community is so generous. Of course, that mainly comes from folks who choose the path of least resistance—doing nothing while people suffer.

Oh, and there’s this one: Taxpayers will foot the bill for construction of such a facility. Nope. The plan here is to seek donations from the private sector, as was reported in Cooper’s story on Simplicity Village.

And finally, contrary to what Chico’s mayor said at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting (see Howard Hardee’s report on page 9), there is a direct correlation between a shortage of housing and homelessness—that is, if you believe the experts in the field and the facts that support their conclusion. It’s hard to believe our city leadership is that ignorant.

I’ll close this holiday column by making a plea of sorts. If you’re going to comment on a subject—whether in email, social media, around the water cooler or at the City Council dais—become informed first so as not to embarrass yourself and spread misinformation. As for our stories, don’t just read the headlines. Don’t just skim for the parts that reinforce what you think you already know. This project deserves to be considered by each of us with an open mind.