Cruelest city in America?

Further criminalizing homelessness will give Chico a terrible reputation

If Chico’s leaders aren’t careful, they’re going to give our fair burg a reputation as one of the cruelest cities in America.

How’s that? Well, about a month ago, with the exception of one member of the seven-member City Council, the panel voted to adopt a new ordinance that makes it easier to hand out citations to individuals for storing personal items on city property and camping there, too. And now, even before that ordinance has gone into effect, at least one representative, Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer, is saying the law should be expanded citywide.

We’re concerned that such a move will open the city up to civil rights litigation. In fact, we’re surprised the city isn’t being sued right now.

That’s because the pending law, which goes into effect early next month, targets local homeless people, an already marginalized population.

What the so-called Offenses Against Waterways and Public Property ordinance does is make it easier for police officers to confiscate homeless people’s belongings and move them along, presumably to some other piece of public property (you know, since they don’t have homes) or, if they have been given enough citations, directly to Butte County Jail.

The law was approved under the premise that it would mitigate vagrancy, camping, illicit-drug use, littering, public urination, etc., along creeks and streams and at the so-called Civic Center (City Hall, the council chambers and City Plaza). Thing is, laws against all of those things are already on the books.

As we’ve said previously, the real purpose of this punitive new law is to make it as difficult as possible for people without homes to live in Chico. Any argument that it applies to everyone in Chico is laughable, considering that people with homes generally don’t live outdoors in public spaces.

If Chico takes steps to further criminalize homelessness, the city may not only face an expensive lawsuit, but also scrutiny well beyond the scope of this newspaper. Now is the time to decide whether we want Chico to be known as one of the cruelest cities in the nation. If not, the question is, do we have what it takes to get to the roots of the homeless problem?