Why we care about ‘the homeless’

No matter the reason for lacking a stable home, everyone deserves respect

To say the CN&R publishes a lot of articles on homelessness is about as obvious as noting the paper comes out on Thursdays. Even the most occasional reader would notice the trend. We consider the plight of unsheltered Chicoans to be one of the city’s biggest problems—a human tragedy that long preceded the Camp Fire.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Stories we run on homelessness tend to draw cynical, dismissive, even vitriolic rebuttals. Take the piece in our last issue about Nandi Crosby-Jordan, a Chico State sociology professor, speaking about economic justice (“Identity crisis,” Newslines, Jan. 17). On Facebook, among comments of support, dissenters waved off her message not to classify evacuees as more “deserving” of aid than “predisaster homeless,” and caricatured the latter as drug-addicted panhandlers who’ve chosen life on the streets instead of the hard work of so-called productive citizens.

We know who “the homeless” are. We talk to our unhoused neighbors, provide a platform for them to relay their experiences and spend time with them at shelters, sometimes volunteering. We know many are, in fact, battling addiction. Addiction is a disease and the reason a slice of the homeless population is out in the cold. But that reason isn’t everyone’s.

Each homeless person is unique. Weekly readers have come across articles about college students living in cars and working families without housing in our tight rental market. Add women and men escaping abusive relationships, unaware of resources, and the picture becomes clearer: There’s no single type of “homeless person”—and that person could be anyone. Even someone you know. Few live without a roof by choice.

A local gadfly, relatively new to Chico, loves to lament all the resources dedicated to what he calls “the homeless industrial complex.” It’s true, homeless people represent just about 1 percent of the population. We and others give them a lot of attention.

Why do we care? Because they’re fellow humans. They aren’t obstacles, impediments to a smooth trip across City Plaza or downtown. They need help, even if they can’t ask or don’t ask in the most ingratiating manner.

“Love thy neighbor” isn’t a platitude.