Clean and Safe Chico investigates solutions to homelessness
The multitude of problems associated with the homeless in downtown Chico has raised no shortage of complaints. Aggressive panhandling, camping in storefront doorways, and a perception of an increase in crime are among the major grievances. A panel of seven community leaders gave updates on their respective group’s efforts in solving these problems at the Clean and Safe Chico gathering at the El Rey Theatre last Wednesday, May 29.
“We don’t want to talk more—we need to implement solutions,” said Chico Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Katie Simmons, who facilitated the gathering. “If you want to help, join me.”
Clean and Safe Chico is composed of a collection of groups whose stated mission is to keep Chico secure, friendly and attractive. Programs touted include the Downtown Ambassadors, the Street Pastors, and one called Redirect Generosity, which discourages giving handouts to the homeless and instead promotes donating to services like rehab centers, homeless shelters and food banks.
Jovanni Tricerri, executive director at Chico Stewardship Network, said the Chico Ambassadors program trains volunteers to become goodwill envoys who interact with businesses, visitors and the homeless to encourage affability, information and cooperation. They work Thursdays through Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tricerri said there are currently about 25 ambassadors, but the network would like 30 to 40 more (go to www.ChicoAmbassadors.com to apply to be a volunteer).
Bill Such, executive director of the Jesus Center, said the Street Pastors program consists of local pastors and church members who roam downtown at night to engage the homeless, offering encouragement and assistance.
“You may have given your kids action figures. Well, you’re looking at an action figure right now,” he said of himself.
The Street Pastors will coordinate with the police, the sheriff’s office, and drug-awareness programs.
Such told the gathering at the El Rey that there is a lack of help available to the mentally ill. That was later echoed on a downtown sidewalk by Richard Place, a homeless man who said he is plagued by drug addiction and depression, and that the rigors of long-term homelessness are a recipe for mental-health problems.
Place, 46, said he’s a strong supporter of Redirect Generosity because he believes that giving directly to the homeless facilitates homelessness.
But elsewhere on the streets, the reaction to Clean and Safe Chico was mixed.
Steve Miller, another transient, said it is wrong to discourage giving to the homeless, but admitted that if he were not homeless, he might feel differently.
Michael Lowe, 61 years old and homeless, said he agrees with the campaign.
“The funding for all those services needs to come from somewhere, and the city of Chico can’t pay for it all,” said Lowe, outside of City Council chambers last Thursday.
Lowe said he had not yet seen the Street Pastors in his time on the streets, but welcomed the idea.
“There’s nothing wrong with preaching to those in need,” he said.
Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle was at last week’s Clean and Safe gathering and told the CN&R he applauds Chico for its community involvement. He said the homeless problem can be improved with a collaborative effort that must address alcohol abuse, mental health and violent crime.
One audience member drew loud applause when he praised Trostle for urging a halt to the issuance of new alcohol licenses. Another vehemently denounced a sit/lie law in Chico that would make sitting or lying on public sidewalks illegal. He said the rule, if passed, would allow police to decide who is acceptable based on appearance, and he promised to use groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union to stop it.
Brad Montgomery, executive director of the Torres Community Shelter, said one issue that keeps the homeless away from that facility is its refusal to accept dogs because of noise and safety concerns. He said he would eventually like to see an off-site dog shelter built.
The evening ended on a positive note from the optimistic Simmons.
“The sky’s the limit,” she said. “We want to inspire hope with a sense of possibility to make Chico the best it can be.”