Resolving to do better on homelessness

Chico’s vice mayor addresses two local laws that require immediate correction

The author is vice mayor of Chico. She holds a master’s degree in social work from Chico State.

The evidence is staggering: When you house someone experiencing homelessness first, addressing other issues they are dealing with becomes significantly more effective and less costly. That’s why communities nationwide are responding to the crisis of homelessness by investing in housing solutions and services. Locally, our Continuum of Care and service organizations are shifting their approach to firmly align with “housing first” principles.

Service providers have the skills and expertise to inform strategies for ending homelessness. They deal with the realities of living on the streets on a daily basis. They understand the myriad causes and effects of being unsheltered. Yet repeatedly, evidence-based solutions they propose are thwarted. Despite obstructionism, advocates continue to work collaboratively to shelter and build trusting relationships with people on our streets.

Local and national data remind us of another fact: A public safety response to homelessness is neither effective nor fiscally responsible. Despite overwhelming evidence, the city of Chico has ordinances on the books that prioritize public safety interventions over evidence-based strategies. Two such laws are sit/lie and the Offenses Against Public Property ordinances.

Until we create more local low-barrier beds, provide temporary shelter, increase transitional housing stock, and fund necessary outreach services, our approach must align with reality. Ordinances that disproportionately impact people with nowhere else to be, when they are otherwise committing no crime, shouldn’t exist. Period.

Have these ordinances positively impacted the state of homelessness in our city? No. They have been effective only in pushing people experiencing homelessness deeper into neighborhoods and city parks, where they’re less accessible to outreach and more prone to becoming victims of crime. As we engage in discussions about housing first and emergency alternatives, there is a blemish on our city that requires immediate correction.

None of us wants to stare abject poverty in the face. Everyone wants solutions. It’s time to take that motivation and focus on data-driven and humane decision-making. It is the best and most strategic thing we can do. It is the right thing to do. This year, let’s resolve to do better.