Nowhere to go without affordable housing

Most homeless folks are locals who have run out of options

An oft-repeated myth: Destitute people are being dumped into Chico from out of the area, which is why we see so many wandering our streets. Wow, the B.S. meter is pegged in the red zone on this one.

I say, after years of street-level conversation—a stint on the Butte County Continuum of Care, volunteering for the Point in Time homeless census, and documenting local homelessness via Without a Roof, etc.—that this story is a callous lie spun here, there and everywhere.

Chico has an affordable housing stock dearth that, even pre-Camp Fire, was one of the most severe in California. The disaster on Nov. 8, 2018, turned it into a massive housing shortage across all economic means. Scores of people have exhausted post-disaster options and ended up on our streets. More still are clinging to the couches and floor spaces of good Samaritans, loved ones and friends.

Meanwhile, the criminalization of basic human functions—along with the efforts to push destitute people out of business areas, parks and watersheds—forces people to wander residential districts.

Without affordable housing, they have nowhere to go.

One example is a woman who approached me on my porch in the avenues several years ago on the same evening as a Chico City Council presentation on the dispersal brought about by enforcement of the sit/lie ordinance. She said she was homeless and not to fear her. I didn’t. She shared that she had just been pushed out of the downtown area.

The woman said she’d lived on the Ridge with her mom, who told her she had a brain disease and kicked her out. The woman, perhaps 40 years of age, was clearly disabled. I comforted her the best I could with conversation, food, drink and a blanket. She sat out on my porch for most of the evening. I haven’t seen her since.

When you see people in distress, comfort them, talk to them, ask them their name and learn their story. You’ll be a better human for it, and a myth-buster to boot.