Ordinance outrages, excludes homeless in community

Dakota Youpee, 58, has been homeless for five years due to financial issues.
Emily Teague
Dakota Youpee, 58, has been homeless for five years due to financial issues.

Many members of the homeless community are upset due to the effects of a new ordinance passed by the Chico city council, feeling that it infringes upon their first amendment rights.

The ordinance deals with the removal of personal items and “camps” from parks and public areas and addresses everything from the “sit-lie” law to how law enforcement may cite the offenders.

The new restrictions on their personal belongings and where they are allowed to congregate has caused outrage.

Erik Lehman, former educator at Emma Wilson Elementary, has been a part of Chico’s homeless community for the last eight years.

“I feel like the public criminalizes us for being less fortunate, instead of helping us get back on our feet,” he said.

Some have complained about inadequate opportunities for basic essentials of life.

“There’s not a lot of public restroom options, and even the shelters require that we are cleaned up before we’re welcomed there,” Lehman said. “But that can be so hard when there aren’t any public showers, and doing things like laundry takes money.”

In Lehman’s personal case, he lost his job with the start of the recession in 2007.

“It’s been hard trying to turn things around, but I’ve got kids here so I can’t just leave,” he said.

To further create awareness on the topic, some members of the homeless and transient community have expressed the public’s need to understand the difference between the two terms.

  • The homeless are usually held down in an area due to unfortunate life circumstances that won’t allow for them to leave or further improve their situation.
  • Transients come and go as they please, traveling with little belongings and choosing to live their lives on-the-go.

One homeless man (who wishes to remain anonymous) feels the city is focusing on the wrong issue entirely with this ordinance.

“Instead of creating laws that waste the city’s resources and are turning people away from public areas, the city should focus on the real issue: littering,” he said. “That’s what everyone’s upset about— all the trash.”

Susie McConnell has been homeless in Chico for the majority of her life since she ran away from home at the age of 16.

“I can understand why people, especially college kids, have such a hard time accepting us as people,” she said. “A portion of the homeless community are either tweakers or mentally ill and off their meds, and that can be frightening to most and gives the rest of us a bad rep.”

McConnell’s biggest wish for improvement has nothing to do with the city giving them money or building new facilities, but rather, she just desires for the homeless to be treated like humans instead of pests.

“I’m tired of the way people look at us on the streets as if we’re scum,” she said. “I’m tired of the city trying to chase us away with tickets, all for sitting down in an alley trying to rest. What money do we have to pay them with, and where are we going to go?”

A lot of the homeless and transients in Chico would be content with congregating in the shelters if they had less restrictions and more resources, such as showers.

“It’d be nice to have a place to rest my head, shoes on my feet and hot food in my gut,” Lehman said. “It’s not like I woke up one day and decided wiping my ass with a McDonald’s wrapper sounded like a good time. The city needs to value us like we’re a part of the community instead of trying to run us out like dogs.”

Eve Dixon can be reached at [email protected] or @1134_208 on Twitter.