More compassion

New law punishes people for being homeless

In the coming months, or sooner, Chico's City Council is going to discuss whether its new anti-homeless ordinance should be expanded throughout the entire city. That is, should the police be given carte blanche to harass those without homes irrespective of the public property they happen to be standing or, in some cases, sleeping upon.

I choose the word harass purposely, since it's the term Mayor Mark Sorensen used back in September when discussing the merits of the so-called Offenses Against Waterways and Public Property ordinance. Among other things, it makes it easier for police to ticket (and thus, eventually, arrest and take to jail) people who live along Chico's creeks or at the Civic Center—the new name for the properties housing City Hall, City Council chambers and City Plaza.

The mayor believes Chico's a huge magnet for homeless people. He and some of his colleagues make it sound like this is the only city in America with such a population. I guess they haven't been to Redding or Sacramento lately or, as some readers have pointed out, realize that much smaller Oroville is home to a much larger homeless population. A simple Google search reveals that cities throughout the United States are grappling with worse issues when it comes to homelessness.

“We've developed the reputation that, ‘Oh, you can go there and they'll give you everything you need, and the police don't even harass you,'” Sorensen lamented.

Openly pushing for city-sanctioned police harassment is a new one, but this council never ceases to amaze me. Sorensen and five of his council colleagues—everyone except Councilwoman Tami Ritter—took the path of least resistance by voting in favor of that law. It goes into effect next week.

One proponent of expanding Chico's new law is Michael Madieros, who's featured this week in our cover story by CN&R staffer Howard Hardee. I respect the work Madieros does at Stairways Programming to help people get off the streets, especially considering the nonprofit employs the Housing First model. But I disagree about the need for a citywide ordinance. Violating people's civil rights is not an appropriate tool to getting them help. The ends do not justify the means.

What we need here is more compassion, along with more resources and, obviously, city leaders with more vision when it comes to truly addressing homelessness.

In other news, last weekend my family finalized our adoption of Monroe (formerly named Syrio), a handsome roughly 8-month-old German shepherd mix. We took him in through a foster-to-adopt program of the Greater California German Shepherd Rescue earlier this month.

The day after Monroe came to our house, he accompanied us on the second annual Buddy Walk at Bidwell Park. The next week, he tagged along during Chico Beer Week's kick-off event, Brewfork. He's spent many an afternoon sleeping at my feet in my office. In other words, he's home.