Hatred and fear not welcome here

One word is emblematic of the inhumanity displayed by the fear-mongers

The author, a Chico State psychology graduate, is a business manager and organizer with the Chico Democratic Socialists of America.

Chico is in crisis mode. The hysteria we are seeing on social media, in the news and at public meetings is a glaring example of the power of moral panic. I feel anything but safe when I see hundreds of protesters parading around, aggressively posturing and screaming “Save our town!”

When moral panic devolves into “us vs. them,” there has to be a “them” on which to direct hate. The easiest group to target is, of course, the unhoused population.

Risk perception defies reality, yet the fear-mongers have been relentlessly posting videos about how unsafe our city has become. As one of them summarized it: “The people that we see walking around I wouldn’t call ‘homeless.’ I’d call them transients; they don’t have any fear of approaching anybody and asking them for money, threatening people, defecating, urinating, trespassing, and theft.”

Using the word “transient” to describe people strips them of their humanity and turns them into a one-dimensional label. In that moment, they are not thought of as a member of our community, but rather as an inhuman other.

It’s not even an accurate word to describe the majority of Chico’s unsheltered and housing-insecure population. The most appropriate definition of “transient” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “passing through or by a place with only a brief stay or sojourn.” Most of Chico’s unhoused folks have lived in Chico or Butte County for a long time, and many did so before they became homeless. Check out the 2019 Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care’s point-in-time survey for more information (buttehomelesscoc.com).

We are one community. Housing insecure and unsheltered individuals are part of the Chico community. Using the word “transients” pushes them aside and justifies their criminalization and our inaction.

I focus so much on that one word because it’s a microcosm of what’s happening on a macro scale in the city that I love. Thinly veiled hatred and fear have no place here, and combating it starts with a little bit of humanity in the way we talk about people.