Talk isn’t enough
City leaders must do more than discuss homelessness, especially during this brutal weather
Chico’s homeless epidemic is a complex issue, but here’s a concept we believe is easy to grasp: There aren’t enough service providers in our region to give shelter to everyone without a roof over their heads.
Right now, about 40 people are camping at an unauthorized tent city in south Chico. The effort, flawed as it may be, is understandable. These are folks who have nowhere to go, after all. The Torres Community Shelter has room for about 20 additional guests and the volunteer-organized Safe Space winter shelter is full (see Meredith J. Cooper’s report on page 8).
Meanwhile, there are other folks living elsewhere—downtown, in our parks and adjacent to businesses. During recent brutal storms and freezing temperatures while we sit comfortably in our homes, these citizens are living outdoors.
What that means is our community is failing this vulnerable population. And it’s a failure that goes back years, not only through complacency but also through ordinances that criminalize homelessness. We’re referring to the city’s so-called sit/lie and Offenses Against Waterways laws, the latter of which was initiated in 2015 by now-Mayor Sean Morgan.
As CN&R learned this week (see Howard Hardee’s report on page 10), those laws have resulted in reduced funding from the federal government to address housing insecurity in Butte County. That is, the City Council’s punitive laws have been detrimental to the efforts of service providers not only within city limits but also throughout the county.
Simply put, the city’s main actions to address homelessness are antithetical to helping those in need.
Our leaders must be held to answer on this issue, and they can start by partnering with other stakeholders—service providers and county officials—to come up with solutions. In the short-term, we suggest the opening of an emergency warming center—an overnight facility that houses homeless people when it rains and when the temperature falls below 40 degrees.
We applaud the council for agendizing discussion on homelessness, but talk isn’t enough. Action is needed and it’s needed immediately.
For citizens hoping to help out, the Butte Countywide Continuum of Care still needs volunteers to conduct its biennial homeless census. Go to www.buttehomelesscoc.com for details on training sessions and how to sign up.