Survival on the street

A tipping point

Talk about homelessness in Chico reached fever pitch in recent weeks, culminating in the City Council’s approval last Tuesday, Nov. 5, of the so-called civil-sidewalks ordinance. The purpose of that pending municipal law is to keep pedestrian pathways outside of businesses free of the vagrancy local retailers and other businesspeople say is hindering commerce, and also to allay perceptions that downtown is dangerous.

It’s unclear, at this point, how well the “sit/lie” law will work. Supporters believe it will give local law-enforcement officials a tool to curtail loitering, panhandling and other problematic behavior. Detractors say it is unconstitutional and will serve only to push current problems to grassy areas where the law isn’t applicable, or into nearby neighborhoods.

What is clear is how very complex the issue of homelessness is in Chico. That’s partially because the population of those without a roof is as diverse as those with housing.

In this special package, the CN&R staff explored homelessness from many angles. We spoke with people who call the streets home, including a local man many know as Jasper. We met local advocates for the down-and-out, including a pastor who’s nourishing the needy through food and prayer (see “Food handout in jeopardy,” Newslines, page 8), and a videographer whose poignant videos give a voice to the voiceless and forgotten. We also reached out to some local business owners who’ve had a rough time dealing with the problems associated with an increasing homeless and transient population.

Inclement weather will soon drive some transients out of town, but that doesn’t solve the crisis we are seeing, and there are no clear-cut and quick answers. However, our hope is that the stories in these pages spur discussions that get beyond the emotional and sometimes cruel responses we’ve seen play out as this issue has reached a tipping point.