Warming center solidarity signals progress

Chico’s partisan City Council came together to help folks on the streets

Fact: Homeless people are at an increased risk of weather-related mortality. Another fact: Homeless people are dying on Chico’s streets.

The question before the Chico City Council on Tuesday (Dec. 10) was whether the panel should better protect these vulnerable residents by amending the criteria that trigger deployment of a local warming center (also known as Code Blue) at the Jesus Center.

One of the backdrops for this conversation is that at least four homeless people have been found deceased outdoors since last March, including a woman who died along Lindo Channel during a cold snap about two weeks ago. That’s according to this newspaper’s reporting over the better part of this year.

Thing is, we also know that this doesn’t include the unsheltered members of our community who may have fallen deathly ill and eventually succumbed at a local hospital. Take, for example, Wilson Tyler—aka Grant, a well-known homeless man—who died in June, two days after being rushed from City Plaza to Enloe Medical Center.

Few residents who attended the meeting opposed what essentially would be an extension of this safety net program the council established last winter, following the Camp Fire. One questioned whether warming centers are being utilized, commentary that was answered when the Jesus Center’s executive director noted that 49 people had used the facility on Thanksgiving night. The other detractor couched the council’s deliberation as a choice between the welfare of “everyday citizens who work and shop in downtown”—in other words, people with money—and “transients.”

Our response: We’re talking about human beings here—choosing the humane path that almost certainly saves lives is the best approach.

To their credit, not one of the members of the panel bought the opponents’ arguments. The council voted unanimously in support of a motion to lower the threshold at which the safety net program would be deployed (see page 8). Solidarity on the issue was a sign of progress.

That said, the council has much work ahead to help alleviate the suffering of those on the streets. To wit, as the author of this week’s guest commentary notes, homeless criminalization laws remain on the books. Moreover, based on a 2018 federal appeals court ruling, such ordinances very likely place the city in legal jeopardy.