Spot-on, Mr. Mayor

Chico leaders have a record of disenfranchising the poor, and now Sean Morgan wants to kick it up a notch

I was torn between laughing and booing the other day when I watched Chico’s mayor tell the TV news that the folks who give away food to homeless people are “completely selfish.”

Sean Morgan was referring to Chico Friends on the Street (CFOTS), a group composed of a variety of smart and compassionate Chicoans who use their own money to purchase and distribute food and other everyday life necessities (clothes, toiletries) to those who live on the streets.

Selfish? I think not. Selfless? Absolutely.

But Morgan comes from the school of thought you hear a lot around these parts: that a “handout” only hurts the impoverished because 1) it keeps them from seeking help from local service providers, and/or 2) it makes life too easy on them, so they won’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and/or 3) it’s the type of thing that just attracts more “transients.”

Thus, from the mayor’s perspective, CFOTS giving out food one day each week is part of the problem. And, boy, was he defensive during his brief TV interview. “They don’t have the moral high ground,” he told a reporter. “They’re hurting these people by empowering them.”

Chico’s mayor is ascribing to the very worst type of provincialism—the backward-thinking variety in which kind and generous people are viewed as the enemy. To that end, according to Action News Now, Morgan wants the city to adopt an ordinance that makes food giveaways illegal. That’s not surprising if you’re familiar with his record of disenfranchising the poor.

Here’s a primer: In 2013, as a newbie councilman, Morgan voted in favor of the sit/lie (aka civil sidewalks) law. In 2014, he brought forward the Offenses Against Waterways and Public Property initiative, which, among other things, prohibits the storage of personal property on public land.

Thing is, Morgan didn’t go it alone. The first law was enacted by a liberal majority council (Councilman Randall Stone and then-Councilwoman Tami Ritter dissented). The second law passed shortly after the conservative takeover (Ritter was the lone dissenter on that one, though Stone later voted nay on a move to expand the ordinance citywide).

Those laws haven’t mitigated homelessness in the slightest. In fact, if anything, they’ve done the opposite. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that awards funds to local service providers, penalized our region as a direct result of those punitive policies. That’s because criminalizing homelessness violates human rights and is ineffective. As the CN&R first reported more than a year ago (see “Dollars disappear,” Newslines, Jan. 12, 2017), as a result, Butte County lost $50,000 that would have aided local programs.

Moreover, homeless people cannot afford to pay the citations, so the punishment serves only to hold them down. Think about what our city leaders have done here. They’ve only made life harder for the brain-injured veteran, the opioid addict, the abused former foster child, the mentally ill senior citizen and the others who live on our streets.

But none of this is news to Morgan, who, as mayor, could easily agendize discussion of repealing those laws.

At one point during his TV news interview, Morgan mimicked some of the pushback he’s heard, presumably from CFOTS and its supporters: “Oh, you’re outlawing homelessness. Oh, you rotten person. Oh, we’re just trying to feed people. We’re just trying to do the right thing.”

Sounds spot-on to me.