Stop criminalizing poverty

Chico City Council must roll back laws that harm efforts to address homelessness

A majority of Chico’s elected representatives have backed a couple of laws criminalizing homelessness over the past four years—attempts to take what they assumed was the easy route when dealing with vagrancy in the community.

The result: Homeless people have moved deeper into Chico’s neighborhoods to avoid being hassled by the police, more of them have been arrested, and more taxpayer money has been spent on enforcement. That’s according to a recent study by a group composed of Chico State faculty and staff members (see “Costs of criminalization,” by Ken Smith, page 10). Meanwhile, according to the Butte County Continuum of Care (CoC), the number of homeless folks has only increased.

In other words, those ordinances have been abject failures in addressing this complex issue. They’ve served only to criminalize poverty.

What’s more, those laws—the sit/lie and offenses against waterways ordinances—have actually hampered local service providers’ efforts to mitigate homelessness in substantive ways. Indeed, as this newspaper has previously reported (see “Dollars disappear,” Newslines, Jan. 12), local organizations tasked with helping the destitute get off the streets have lost funding from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development based on the City Council’s punitive policies. That decrease in federal revenue applies not only to organizations focused on Chico, but also those throughout the county.

So, here’s a question: Why are those laws still on the books?

That’s a query for the members of the City Council, all of whom have known for the better part of the year that their efforts do a disservice to those organizations and the poor people they serve. Each of them can sit at the dais and pay lip service to their concerns for the community, but until they roll back those ordinances, they are contributing to the problem.