Making Chico ‘clean and safe’
Council tackles issues of homelessness and transiency
Councilwoman Ann Schwab has been hearing a lot about homelessness lately, and specifically those transients who live on the streets, sleep in doorways, are accompanied by aggressive dogs, gather in large groups and generally frighten people and create a sense that Chico is not a clean city.
She mentioned in particular that she’d been contacted by executives at Landacorp, the health-care software maker whose offices are located at Sixth and Flume streets downtown. They told her, she said, that when corporate visitors try to make their way from their lodgings at the Hotel Diamond, they’re afraid to cross City Plaza because of the many transients there.
That’s why, she said during the Chico City Council’s meeting Tuesday (Dec. 18), she was proposing that the city take leadership in dealing with the problem by creating an ad hoc committee led by three council members that would bring together all the stakeholders, including the Downtown Chico Business Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Jesus Center, the Torres Community Shelter, the Salvation Army, the Greater Chico Homeless Task Force, and so on.
The committee’s purpose would be to present its findings to the council and recommend an action plan. And it should happen soon, she said, because by spring the number of transients will increase dramatically.
Council members all agreed that more needed to be done, and that homelessness was a complex problem for which no silver-bullet solution existed.
As it turns out, though, the council has a newly elected expert on homelessness, Tami Ritter, the founding director of the Torres shelter. And she cautioned that a new committee could duplicate services already being offered, especially by the Greater Chico Homeless Task Force.
The chairwoman of the task force, Jennifer Haffner, who is managing attorney at Legal Services of Northern California, agreed with Ritter. “We feel we are the ad hoc committee.” The group is looking at the roots of the problem and developing long-term solutions, she said. “We welcome the opportunity to have more participation by the city.”
Katie Simmons, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, told council members her organization was working closely with the Jesus Center, the DCBA and the Torres shelter, among others, to deal with “cleanliness and safety issues.” These issues are economic issues, she said, and “we’re working on what a clean and safe Chico looks like.”
Councilman Scott Gruendl suggested a compromise: Appoint three council members to the Greater Chico Homeless Task Force on a temporary basis, until that group comes up with an action plan. “We need a full-court press on this issue,” he said.
In the end, though, a majority of the council members agreed with Ritter that creation of a new committee would be duplicative and that the homeless task force—on which most of the stakeholder groups were represented—was the appropriate lead agency for dealing with the issue.
Councilman Mark Sorensen moved that Mayor Mary Goloff go ahead with her announced intention to appoint Ritter to the task force, where she can work with the stakeholders and return with a plan of action.
In a sign that not every council action follows ideological lines, the two council conservatives, Sorensen and Sean Morgan, were joined by Ritter and Goloff in the majority.
Later in the meeting, Pastor Ted Sandberg, the Interfaith Council’s representative to the Greater Chico Homeless Task Force, informed the council that his organization would be offering a special presentation in late January to deal with the public’s “fears and hopes” regarding homelessness.
The event will begin with a discussion of the legal issues surrounding such activities as panhandling and loitering, followed by a walk-through of the City Plaza as a way to deal with people’s fears. “Our goal is to see people as God’s creation, so we can be comfortable with them,” he explained.